Friday, January 11, 2013

America's Spaceport, Part 3

Kennedy Space Center public bus tour stops in 1967. Click the image to view at a larger size.

(Part 3 in a series.)

One month after Kennedy Space Center bus tours began from the interim Visitor Information Center on July 22, 1966, more than 50,000 guests had toured KSC. Many of them also toured the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station.

According to the August 18, 1966 Spaceport News, “On two different days this month over 2,300 visitors purchased tickets for the bus tours. This is the highest single-day attendance figure since the tours were initiated on July 22.”

By mid-October, the number had surpassed 100,000. By year's end, it was above 150,000.

KSC visitors board a tour bus at the original Visitor Information Center during the 1966 Christmas holidays.

According to the January 5, 1967 Spaceport News, “On December 26, 2,615 people took advantage of the daily escorted bus tours of the Center and Cape Kennedy. That new record lasted one day, for on the 27th, 3,580 visitors were here. Then on Wednesday, the 28th, another high — 4,113 — was set, and on Thursday more than 4,500 toured. 'This goes beyond one's imagination,' said one of the visitors in summing up what she had seen.”

The number of guests reached 300,000 by late March, and 400,000 by late June.

The permanent Visitor Information Center (VIC), meanwhile, was under construction across the Indian River on a Merritt Island site one mile west of the old Orsino township.

The Visitor Information Center under construction in early 1967. Note in the far distance the Vehicle Assembly Building and a Saturn V mobile launcher.

The April 13, 1967 Spaceport News reported:

Construction of the Visitor Information Center, located a mile west of Kennedy Parkway, is now 35 percent complete. Scheduled to open to the public in July, the center will feature educational exhibits and serve as a terminal for conducted bus tours of the Space Center.

On June 1, 1967, tours began to include a stop at Cape Kennedy's historic Mercury Mission Control. The facility was last used as Mission Control for the Gemini 3 launch on March 23, 1965. After that, mission control responsibilities were shifted to Houston, but the building was still used as launch control for the remaining Gemini flights. It was retired after the Gemini 12 launch on November 11, 1966.

The June 22, 1967 Spaceport News described the guest experience.

From the darkness, one by one, historic flight control consoles light up. A pre-recorded magnetic tape explains the function of each of the consoles as they come to life.

"The flight director used this console ... here is where the first voice of Mercury originated, and here is where the Cap Com, the astronaut communicator, first heard John Glenn's eager and graphic description of space flight."

A large, wall-size, map leaps suddenly into light ... displaying before the viewer a flat view of the world's surface. Displayed on the map is an animation of the spacecraft during its orbital path around the world. The map shows the various tracking stations in NASA's worldwide network.

And as the magnetic tape continues, "... It is now T plus 10 minutes and the status board here in the Mission Control indicates that all spacecraft systems are go ..."

As the permanent VIC prepared to open, Spaceport News ran a full-page article in the July 6, 1967 issue describing the center's features and published several photos.

Here are the photos with their original captions.

“LING-TEMCO-VOUGHT employees Lowell Fenner, left, Bud Frank, center, and AI Vela inspect spacecraft models to be displayed in VIC. LTV Publications Unit is the KSC contractor responsible for coordinating and integrating the displays and exhibits for the VIC.”

“MODEL of Lunar Module, now in front of KSC Headquarters, will be one of the feature attractions at new Visitor Information Center.”

“MERCURY spacecraft, long-time attraction at Gate 3, will be moved to VIC site.”

“THESE dismantled Titan I rockets seen at Launch Complex 39 turning basin shortly after their arrival at KSC by barge, will be modified and transformed into a single Gemini-Titan II space vehicle complete with spacecraft. Configuration will later be displayed at VIC.”

Here are excerpts from the article describing the new center's features.

The Visitor Information Center, located five miles east of Gate 3 on the NASA Parkway, is scheduled to open August 1.

The 42-acre complex consists of two main buildings separated by a portico. Dislayed on the grounds surrounding the portico will be models of the Apollo Lunar Module and the Mercury and Gemini space capsules.

In the center of the portico area will be a 26-foot display board showing a map of the entire KSC and Cape area and a welcome from Dr. Debus. This board will be used to display current space program events.

The primary exhibit building will have two theaters, two arcades and a picture gallery. Each of the theaters will accommodate 240 persons, and films relevant to the space program will be shown.

The artist's concept for the permanent Visitor Information Center, as it appeared in the January 5, 1967 Spaceport News.

Separating the two theaters is a picture gallery walkway. Here visitors will see a collection of original paintings by famous American artists commissioned by NASA which will be on loan to KSC from the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Around the walls of the arcades, visitors will see displays depicting the development of rockets. They will view examples of NASA, unmanned and manned spacecraft.

Other displays deal with KSC, its functions and the contractor and NASA personnel who perform them.

In the other building visitors can purchase tour bus tickets, or take advantage of the snack bar and souvenir facilities. However, there will be displays set up in this building also. Among the three-dimensional exhibits will be a model of the VAB. Visitors will see a model Saturn V move in and out of the world's largest building on the transporter.

Other three-dimensional exhibits will include mannequins wearing full-size Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacesuits, accompanied by explanations of the life-support systems.

A NASA Tours bus parked at the interim VIC on the mainland side of the Indian River sometime in 1967.

The July 20, 1967 Spaceport News noted the one-year anniversary of KSC bus tours by publishing the history of escorted KSC bus tours. (At this time, guests were still allowed to drive through the center on Sundays.) The article described the bus tour route at the time.

The two and a half hour drive, in modern, air-conditioned buses, includes stops at the Apollo Flight Crew Training Building and in the Vehicle Assembly Building on Merritt Island, and at the Mission Control Center and the Air Force Museum at Launch Complex 26 at the Cape.

The tour route winds past Mercury-Redstone, Delta, Minuteman, Mercury-Atlas, Atlas-Agena, Atlas-Centaur, Gemini-Titan, Saturn I, Titan III and Apollo/Saturn V launch sites, among others.

At Launch Complex 39, Apollo/Saturn V Pad A, the Mobile Service Structure, Mobile Launchers and crawler/transporters are key attractions, in addition to the VAB.

VIC guests examine Mercury-era artifacts at the interim VIC in 1967.

The same issue had a separate article about the landscaping at the new visitor center.

The Spaceport News caption read, “KSC Roads and Grounds chief Harrell Cunningham, right, and TWA horticulturist Kimzie Cowart map landscaping plans for the Visitor Information Center. In the background is a Phoenix Reclinata Palm cluster with 13 trunks.”

A few of the plants were purchased, but most trees and shrubs are being transplanted from other areas at the Center.

“Many of the flowering plants and shrubs were taken from old homesites that were evacuated when the Space Center was developed,” Cunningham explained. Others are being moved from new building sites.

(Have any of those trees or plants survived to this day?)

The permanent facility opened on August 1, 1967. The doors opened at 8:30 AM, “following remarks by Director Dr. Kurt H. Debus, Deputy Director Albert F. Siepert and former New York congressman and member of the House Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, Walter Riehlman.”

To officially open the Center, Riehlman activated the firing command button from the Mercury-Redstone console — the same used on astronaut Alan Shepard's flight. This triggered a 10 second countdown and then fired a satellite transmitter, much like that of Explorer 1. The signal caused a small wire to burn, unveiling a drape covering one of the Center's exhibits.

Less than an hour later, the 500,000th person to take a KSC bus tour passed through the gate.

The interim VIC was on the mainland side of the Indian River near Gate 3. To accommodate visitors to the new facility, a temporary guard station was set up near the new center starting at 6:30 AM daily.

Each morning the check point will be moved from the permanent gate 3 area, near US 1 to the VIC area.

Guards will move back to the permanent facility each evening after the last tourists have left the VIC, sometime after 6 p.m.

Next: A look at VIC tour books and flyers from the late 1960s.


A Tourist Information Center trailer opens in 1964 on the mainland side of the Indian River.

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

A visit today to where America's spaceport began.

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