Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Right Stuff

The museum at Launch Complex 26 was the blockhouse for the Explorer 1 launch in January 1958.

The Air Force Space and Missile Museum is always in need of volunteer docents to lead tours and host visitors at its History Center.

If you're interested, now is the time to apply. Applicants complete an Air Force form which includes a security background check. Training begins the second Saturday of each quarter; the next orientation will be April 9.

Click here for the application form. You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the file.

Docents come from many walks of life. Many of the oldest docents worked on space projects at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the newer volunteers (such as myself) are space enthusiasts.

The volunteer schedule is published by quarter. Some docents work as little as once a month. Others (such as myself) volunteer as often as possible.

Inside the LC-26 blockhouse on January 31, 1958.

Those who like to teach volunteer to lead tours through the museum, which began life as the blockhouse for Launch Complex 26. Its most famous moment was January 31, 1958, when Explorer 1, the nation's first orbiting satellite, was launched from pad 26-B.

The museum is on base and accessible to the public only by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guided tour. That's why in August 2010 the museum opened a second site, the History Center, which is located just outside the CCAFS south gate on SR 401. Docents staff the History Center's front desk, orient visitors and help interpret exhibits.

Both sites have gift shops, so if you're not interested in leading tours the museum always needs people to volunteer for gift shop duty.

Click here to see what's for sale at the gift shops.

Because the museum and History Center are owned by the Air Force, the gift shops are run by an independent non-profit foundation. Proceeds are donated to maintain the museum and History Center.

A typical shift at the museum is less than two hours. You arrive about 45 minutes before the KSCVC bus tour (which usually shows up around 1:20 PM). Their stop lasts 45 minutes, then the bus moves on to their next destination so you secure the museum and you're done for the day.

At the History Center, hours vary. The front desk shifts are four to five hours depending on the day.

The museum shifts are shorter but more intense. If you prefer a slower pace, you may want to request a History Center assignment.

What's in it for you?

No money. (Hence the use of the word "volunteer.")

But really nice perks.

As noted above, access to the museum is restricted, so after clearing a background check you're issued a badge that grants you access to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center. You can go to any location that's not restricted (e.g. the Shuttle launch complexes and active launch sites). Many docents use the badge to explore historic sites such as last month when I visited the remains of the Vanguard launch site.

You also receive a one-year Commander's Club pass at KSCVC, retail value $53. This gives you unlimited free access to the Visitor Complex. You also receive six free KSCVC guest passes every six months ($41 value per ticket).

There's also a free Christmas dinner each December at Patrick Air Force Base just south of Cocoa Beach.

The docents meet the first Monday evening of each month at the Tides Club on A1A across from Patrick AFB. Part of the meeting is administrative, but we're implementing a structured guest speaker schedule so you can learn more about American space history.

If you worked at CCAFS or KSC, it's a great opportunity to pass along your knowledge to the public and future generations. If you're a space enthusiast but not particularly knowledgeable about the technical details of every space program widget, don't worry. Your enthusiasm and your willingness to volunteer are what matter. You will be taught what you need to know; tour guides often embellish with their own personal experiences or enhance presentations with their own additional research.

As with any volunteer organization, we're apolitical. Don't confuse what I post on this blog with the opinions of anyone at the museum. We teach history. Politics are left outside the blast door.

I visited the museum as a tourist many times over the years. I always wanted to be one of the docents who safeguards American space history. I moved 3,000 miles for the opportunity, and I'm having the time of my life.

If you think you have the right stuff ... click here to apply.

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