Friday, December 14, 2012

America's Spaceport, Part 2

The interim Visitor Information Center as it appeared in the December 22, 1966 Spaceport News. The site was on the mainland side of the Indian River at the old Gate 3 entrance.

(Part 2 in a series.)

On January 3, 1965, the first day drive-through tours were permitted, 1,936 people in 575 cars (that's 3.4 per vehicle) passed through Gate 3 on the west side of the Indian River Causeway to visit Kennedy Space Center.

The tours were permitted only on Sundays, so the second tour day was a week later on January 10. 2,107 people drove through, an increase of 171 from the first day. The Center was open for only three hours, from 1 PM to 4 PM.

The April 15, 1965 issue of Spaceport News reported that Sunday tours had averaged about 2,100 per day. “More than a third of the visitors have been from out of the state,” the paper reported. “Representatives of 29 states as well as several foreign countries, including Belgium and Germany, have made the tour.”

The brochure handed these guests included a welcome from Center Director Kurt Debus. It stated that a more permanent guest facility was planned:

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.

In June, as the center prepared to launch Gemini 4, the Public Affairs Office announced details for what would be known as the Visitor Information Center.

Kennedy Space Center Public Affairs Office Chief Gordon L. Harris briefed Brevard County leaders and members of the press Tuesday on results of the recent National Park Service study on future tourism at the Merritt Island Spaceport.

According to the Park Service's projected figures, Harris said, more than three million tourists would visit the Spaceport annually by 1970, with as many as 15,000 on peak days.

Focal point for the tourists will be the $1.2 million Visitor Information Center (VIC), which will be built on the Island, about a half mile west of the NASA Parkway-Kennedy Parkway intersection.

The Visitor Center will offer basic orientation, information and interpretation of the Kennedy Space Center's mission, as well as provide needed comfort and refreshment facilities. It will also serve as the point of origin and terminus for guided bus tours.

These tours will cover the major points of interest on the Spaceport, including the Vehicle Assembly Building, mobile launchers, crawler-transporter and the industrial area.

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

During the summer, five architects submitted design proposals. The October 1, 1965 Spaceport News announced the winner was Welton Becket of New York City.

The design, offering maximum flexibility, is modular and can be expanded without interruption to the visitor program if the attendance requires. Space is provided for exhibits, an auditorium, canteen, administrative offices, mechanical equipment, and rest rooms. A major function of the structure will provide loading facilities for escorted bus tours of the Space Center.

The same issue noted that the interim facility had just recorded its 100,000th visitor. Tours were now offered on Saturdays and holidays from 10 AM to 4 PM, as well as 1 PM to 4 PM on Sundays.

An exhibit at the Cable Storage Building began during the 1965 Christmas holidays. By July 1966, it had moved to the Visitor Information Center on the mainland.

During the Christmas holidays, the tour debuted a new attraction — a stop to look at a number of exhibits depicting future construction at the center. The attraction was housed in the Cable Storage Building.

Featured are 1/96th scale models of the Vehicle Assembly Building, the Mobile Launchers and the Launch Complex 39 pad area. There are also large, colorful panel boards which photographically and artistically depict KSC launch operations.

The May 4, 2007 Spaceport News identifies the Cable Storage Building as one of the center's first buildings, located near the former location of the Orsino township. (Can anyone help with the building's identity today?)

According to the May 4, 2007 Spaceport News, this was the Cable Storage Building, one of the first facilities built at Kennedy Space Center.

The drive-through tours proved so successful that in May 1966 it was announced that bus tours would begin on July 15. According to the May 5, 1966 Spaceport News:

Bus tours will begin at Gate 3, the main approach to the Center. The itinerary on Merritt Island will include at least two stops where passengers may leave the vehicle. One will be a photo stop outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at Launch Complex 39. The other will be a stop inside the VAB.

Bus driver-escorts will receive special training in order to provide accurate space information to patrons while enroute and at stops. Fees for the tours will be announced shortly. These will be set at a moderate level sufficient only to cover operating costs.

The tour bus operation will be conducted by Trans World Airlines. TWA is the base support contractor for KSC.

The June 23, 1966 Spaceport News added, “At Launch Complex 39, visitors will be escorted into the VAB to view the facilities for assembly and checkout of the Apollo/Saturn V. This will be the first time that the general public has been allowed access to the VAB.” Drive-through tours would continue at no charge, but drivers would not be allowed to stop anywhere on the center.

As with most NASA launches, the tour debut was delayed as well, one week to July 22.

The caption from the July 21, 1966 Spaceport News: “Charming Mary Klatt of TWA has the welcome sign out for visitors who will board the first KSC-sponsored bus tours of the Spaceport.”

The August 4, 1966 Spaceport News reported an opening week that overwhelmed available resources.

Visitors flocked to the Kennedy Space Center during the first week of guided bus tours at a rate that would result in nearly a million visitors to the Spaceport by this time next year.

Men, women and children from nearly all the 50 states, several Canadian provinces and at least a dozen countries around the world boarded air-conditioned buses at Gate 3 to see closeup the world-famous launch facilities of the Spaceport and Cape Kennedy.

Additional buses had to be added by the GSA motor pool from the very first day to the original fleet of 15 leased to handle the demand. Departure time for the first bus was advanced from 8:30 to 8 in the morning, and buses continued to leave past the originally planned cutoff time of 3:30 each afternoon to accommodate the flood of tourists.

The first bus tour customers on July 22, 1966 were Mr. and Mrs. Ed Wilkerson of Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Spaceport News did not give Mrs. Wilkerson's first name.)

According to that issue, “An average of about 1,800 persons a day have been taking the bus tours. In addition, more than 4,500 sightseers saw the Spaceport from their own cars the first Sunday after bus tours began.”

Next: The permanent Visitor Information Center opens on Merritt Island.

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

UPDATE December 18, 2012 — More information thanks to Malcolm Glenn, a NASA employee who moonlights as an unofficial KSC historian.

Malcolm sends along this photo of the displays that were inside the Cable Storage Building in February 1966.

Image courtesy Malcolm Glenn. Original source: J.L. Pickering.

He also spent some time in the Industrial Area yesterday determining the location of the Cable Storage Building. He believes that today it's known as the Communications Maintenance and Storage Facility, identified as Building M6-791. It's located on the northeast corner of B Avenue SE and 4th Street SE.

Meanwhile, I've ordered off eBay some literature distributed to Visitor Information Center tourists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those may appear in a future article.

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