Wednesday, December 5, 2012

America's Spaceport, Part 1

The Tourist Information Center on the west end of the Indian River Causeway in 1965. Click the image to view a larger version. Image source: NASA.

(Part 1 in a series.)

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex documents the history of Kennedy Space Center, but the tourist attraction has its own rich and unique history.

That history was documented by Spaceport News, a publication begun in late 1962 by the center's Public Information Office.

Most, but not all, of the editions have been converted to PDF. 1996 and later are available online. 1962 through 1982 are available upon submission of a Freedom of Information Act request, which is how I obtained copies. 1983 through 1995 await funding for conversion.

The earliest reference I could find to any space center tour was the December 12, 1963 edition.

John F. Kennedy had been assassinated the month before. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had been renamed Cape Kennedy. On the NASA side, the Launch Operations Center was renamed Kennedy Space Center. The first KSC buildings were under construction; NASA's activities were still at the Air Force station.

Page 1 of the December 12, 1963 Spaceport News announced that drive-through tours of the base were about to begin.

It's likely that many televised pro football games will be missed this Sunday, when the gates of Cape Kennedy will be opened to the public.

Air Force Missile Test Center Commander, Major General L. I. Davis, announced the Cape will be open for a drive through from 1 to 4 p.m. every Sunday, beginning this week.

He emphasized this will be a trial effort at first, but if everything proves workable it will become a weekly event.

Motorists will both enter and depart from the south gate. Their route will take them down pier road past the Polaris sites, northward past the old Redstone and Jupiter pads and the present Delta launch area, to ICBM road, which winds past Centaur, Atlas and Titan complexes.

Turn around point will be near pad 34, which will afford a good view of SA-5, undergoing final tests at 37.

The first mention of a KSC tour appears in the March 26, 1964 issue.

Trans World Airlines was KSC's prime contractor for base support operations. TWA subcontracted fire and security services to the Wackenhut Corporation.

Patrolmen would provide security, while female employees — called “guardettes” — would provide clerical services.

They were also the first tour guides.

Guardettes will also serve as guides on bus tours to NASA areas. Busses will be equipped with loud speaker systems, and the girls will present a general orientation on NASA activities and facilities during the tours.

The guardettes will wear French-blue skirts and jackets with white blouses. They will have red hats, belts, red piping trim, and matching shoes.

Wackenhut “guardette” tour guide Pat Blalock, seen in the March 26, 1964 Spaceport News.

While KSC prepared for tours, the Cape Kennedy side became quite popular. According to the October 22, 1964 Spaceport News, on one Sunday that month, more than 4,000 tourists took the drive-through tour.

Funding for a KSC visitor facility was approved by Congress that year. According to the November 12, 1964 Spaceport News, “Dr. Kurt H. Debus, KSC Director, has approved a site on government-owned land at Merritt Island close to NASA Road connecting with NASA Causeway West over the Indian River and U. S. Highway 1.”

An interim facility called the Tourist Information Center was operational by the end of 1964, in a trailer outside NASA's security gate on the mainland just west of the Indian River Causeway. A photo of that trailer is at the top of this article.

According to the December 10, 1964 Spaceport News, tourists were handed a copy of a letter written by KSC Director Kurt Debus:

Welcome to the John F. Kennedy Space Center!

You are at one of the entrance gates to the nation's spaceport where NASA is building facilities required for heavy launch vehicles. These vehicles will be capable of transporting men to the Moon and return, or placing large space stations in Earth orbit, or propelling unmanned spacecraft into the deeper reaches of the solar system.

The construction work in progress throughout the installation makes it necessary to maintain strict controls on access and movement within the Spaceport. However, Cape Kennedy is open to the public every Sunday afternoon from one to four, EST.

While the Sunday tours of the Cape continue, plans are being made to establish a Visitor Information Center on the NASA spaceport. This facility is expected to be ready for use about mid-1966. Escorted bus tours are also planned. In the interim, I solicit your patient understanding and cooperation.

— Kurt H. Debus

Drive-through tours of KSC began on January 3, 1965. Similar in format to the self-guided tours at Cape Kennedy, guests followed a clearly marked tour route. They were not allowed to exit their vehicles, but they could take photographs from inside their cars.

The caption from the January 7, 1965 Spaceport News: “Guardette Ursula Neill hands Spaceport literature to Russ Lawson of Winter Park, who drove the first car admitted to the Kennedy Space Center at Merritt Island Sunday. More than 1,900 visitors from all over the United States and Canada, viewed NASA facilities.”

According to the January 7, 1965 Spaceport News, more than 1,900 people toured KSC that first day in 575 cars, 144 from outside Florida.

Wayne F. Miller of Adrian, Michigan, who was in the second car that entered the Spaceport said, "I can see now where our tax dollars are going, and it looks like they're being well spent."

Next: An interim Visitor Information Center opens on the mainland west of the Indian River Causeway.

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