NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center
The massive, white Saturn V rocket suspended from the ceiling of the Apollo/Saturn V Center in Florida served as the backdrop for celebration Sept. 22 to mark NASA Kennedy Space Center's 50th Anniversary and the achievements of the last five decades.
The gala's theme, "Celebrating the Past and Preparing for the Future," was fitting as nearly 650 current and former NASA civil service and contractor employees, dignitaries and guests mingled, reminisced about days past, and reconnected with colleagues from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs. They also attended to hear about the center's next chapter in spaceflight.
The event was presented by Kennedy and the National Space Club Florida Committee (NSCFC).
Master of Ceremony Jim Banke, the host of Space Talk on WMMB-AM, welcomed guests to the celebration.
"Let's take a few moments to honor the rich history and promising future of this great national asset that is so important, and continues to be important, to all of us here tonight," Banke said.
NSCFC Chairman Steve Griffin announced that the organization's Florida National Defense Space Award would be renamed the Forrest McCartney Memorial Florida National Defense Space Award to honor the late former Kennedy center director. Gen. McCartney was Kennedy's director from 1986 to 1991.
"I cannot think of a better place to celebrate 50 years of Kennedy Space Center than here at the Saturn V facility, under this phenomenal rocket," said Kennedy Director Robert Cabana.
"All of the centers play a critical role in NASA's success, but nowhere else does it come together like it does here at Kennedy," Cabana said. "This team has seen a lot in the last 50 years and we've contributed to great successes at NASA."
Included in these successes, Cabana said, were men on the moon, the first launch of the space shuttle on its own amazing 30-year history, the phenomenal achievement of the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Curiosity rover on Mars.
"Throughout those 50 years, there's been one common theme, and that's an insatiable desire to explore, to send humans and robotic spacecraft beyond the confines of our home planet, in a never-ending quest to expand our knowledge of the universe," Cabana said.
But, as great as those last 50 years have been, Cabana said he truly believes that the next 50 years are going to be even better. The center is putting in place the infrastructure to send humans further into the solar system than they've ever gone before. A spaceport of the future, once science fiction, is being built, with commercial and government, crew and cargo, orbital and suborbital flights, and flights well beyond planet Earth.
"I am sure of this success because of the quality, drive, dedication and enthusiasm of this outstanding Kennedy team," Cabana said. "We are charging into the future."
Guests were treated to a special greeting from International Space Station Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams.
"On behalf of astronauts everywhere, we thank you for your hard work," Williams said. "We can’t wait for the future missions, where we will fly once again from Kennedy and where those missions will take us."
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said that for millions of our citizens and billions of people around the world, the Kennedy Space Center is synonymous with mankind's greatest achievements in exploration of the universe.
"With retirement of the shuttle program, we stand on the cusp of a new era in spaceflight, and Kennedy is again at the center of this action," Bolden said. "As we stand on the shoulders of 50 years of greatness here at Kennedy, I ask you to join me in looking forward to an even brighter future."
Bolden said we are not just on a mission to discover the universe. We're on a mission to discover ourselves.
"We can't forget that the purpose of space exploration is to make life better here on Earth," Bolden said.
PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien closed the program with his unique view of NASA's space program, Kennedy Space Center and its workers.
"Here you take tremendous pride in everything you do. And all of it for the right reasons," O'Brien said. "What strikes me the most is the way all of you conducted yourselves as you wrote the epilogue to an amazing epic story.
"Tonight we celebrate much more than an accident of geography. We celebrate, we venerate, the minds, the hands, the accumulated knowledge and the ingenuity that made this place great for 50 years. And will make it great for as long as we continue to go to space."
Some of Kennedy's former directors and retired workers praised the fine work accomplished at the center.
Richard Smith, Kennedy's center director from 1979 to 1986, said that Kennedy has a great history, but its true resource is the people.
Bill Parsons, center director from 2007 to 2008, was delighted to be among friends and colleagues.
"They are the true icons of this business," Parsons said. "I am so blessed that I get to be a part of this business."
Roland Norris was the lead for mechanical systems on the first manned Gemini launch. He arrived at Kennedy during the end of the Mercury program and spent 45 years at the center, working all the way through to the Space Shuttle Program, before retiring in 2003.
"It was a privilege working here during such an historic time," Norris said. "It was challenging and very rewarding. We were working with the best and finest in the country."
Wayne Owens, a design engineer, arrived at Kennedy in 1965.
"I'm here because of my love for NASA," Owens said.