The John F. Kennedy Space Center has been at the epicenter of the United States' space program since the late 1960s. It has been the jumping off point for numerous historic missions into space and continues to play an active role in space exploration. As a result, much of the Space Center is restricted. However, it does have an extensive visitor center, which presents its history and ongoing role in a user-friendly theme-park style.
Historically, the primary military entity in this part of Florida was United States Navy. However, in 1948, the Navy transferred its Banana River Naval Air Station to the U.S. Air Force. Shortly, thereafter, the Air Force established a launch center for a missle testing range on Cape Canaveral . During the 1950s and into the 1960s, the Air Force station on Cape Canaveral evolved into the primary launch point for the United States' exploration of space. The first American satellite was launched from there as were the manned missions of the Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo projects. (From 1963 to 1973, this facility was called “Cape Kennedy”. However, it reverted to its traditional name in 1973).
Meanwhile, Congress had created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) in 1958 to lead America's space program. NASA determined that the Cape Canaveral facility was inadequate to launch the type of rocket needed to propel a manned vehicle to the Moon and so it acquired land on Merritt Island adjacent to Cape Canaveral. Following President Kennedy's assassination, the Merritt Island facility became the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
NASA constructed two new launch pads at the Space Center designed to accommodate the giant Saturn V rocket needed to propel an Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. Three miles from the launch pads, it built the Vechile Assembly Building (“VAB”), which was the largest structure by volume at the time it was built. It has the capacity to store four 363 ft. tall Saturn V rockets. Once the rocket and the space craft were stacked together vertically in the VAB, they were moved on a giant transporter along a “crawlerway” to the launch pads . NASA also built a launch control center and various other buildings to support the launches. (Once the space craft was launched, responsibility for the mission shifted to NASA's Mission Control in Houston, Texas).
Apollo 4 through Apollo 17 were launched from the Kennedy Space Center. This included the first manned flight to the Moon. In 1972, when the Apollo program ended, the Space Center shifted focus to other projects such as the Skylab space station.
The Space Center's facilities were modified for the Space Shuttle Program. Not only were the shuttles launched from the Space Center but a three-mile long landing strip was built so that shuttles could return to the Space Center at the end of their missions. In the 30 years the program was in operation, space shuttles launched satellites and interplanetary probes; visited the Russian space station Mir; constructed and serviced the International Space Station, constructed and serviced the Hubble Telescope and conducted numerous experiments in space. The program ended in 2011.
The Space Center continues to be active in space exploration. Among other things, the Space Center has become a multi-user spaceport with launches done in partnership with the private sector.
Encompassing some 144,000 acres, much of the Space Center is undeveloped and has become a wildlife sanctuary. It is a nesting site for bald eagles. Alligators live in the area as do rarer species such as panthers.
Beacuse of the sensitive nature of the work done there as well as the portential for injury, visitors cannot simply wander around the Space Center. However, an extensive visitor complex has been created near the VAB. It includes historic artifacts such as rockets, space capsules, satellites and the Space Shuttle Atlantis. In addition, there are interactive exhibits, an IMAX movie, simulators, restaurants and gift shops. A bus tour of the grounds is included with admission. However, for an additional charge, visitors can purchase tours that cover more facilities and which go into more depth.
For more information on visiting, see the Space Center website.
Above: The Vehicle Assembly Building.
Below: The Crawlerway on which assembled rockets and spacecraft were transported from the VAB to the launch pads.
Wildlife abounds in the Space Center. Above: An alligator. Below: A bald eagle nest.
Cruise destination - Port Canaveral, Florida, United States - Kennedy Space Center