A Past to be Proud Of
The men and women of Kennedy Space Center have been extending humanity's reach and knowledge for 45 years. As we push to return to the moon, it is important that we look back on a remarkable record of scientific and technological achievement for the United States.
The launch complexes dotting Cape Canaveral's shores had been launching rockets for 12 years before ground was broken in 1962 on what would become Kennedy Space Center. With a mandate to build a launch center, NASA and Kennedy's first director, Dr. Kurt H. Debus, set out to build an infrastructure to support the biggest rockets ever devised.
Image left: An aerial view of Launch Pad 39A under construction in Dec. 1964. Photo credit: NASA/KSC + View Larger Image
Facilities such as the Operations and Checkout Building, Launch Complex 39 and the landmark Vehicle Assembly Building quickly took shape on the barren sands of the northern tip of Merritt Island.
Image left: An aerial view of the Vehicle Assembly Building under construction in Nov. 1964. Photo credit: NASA/KSC + View Larger Image
The agency's cutting-edge team of engineers, technicians and contractors launched astronauts aboard Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets while the larger Apollo structures were built. They also sent the earliest unmanned spacecraft toward planets in our solar system that were previously out of reach. Missions to Mars, Venus, Mercury and Jupiter complemented the great strides of the manned programs.
Seven years from its inception, Kennedy Space Center would dispatch the first of six teams of astronauts to the surface of the moon during the Apollo program.
Image right: Former President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson and former Vice President Spiro Agnew view the liftoff of Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center VIP viewing site. They witnessed the launch of the first manned lunar landing mission that took place from Pad 39A, July 16, 1969. Photo credit: NASA/KSC + View Larger Image
The Kennedy Space Center work force next turned its focus to the space shuttle and the challenges of readying a reusable spacecraft for orbit. Columbia lifted off from Launch Complex 39A on April 12, 1981, to kick off a program that has seen 118 launches in 26 years.
Complex missions called for Kennedy to ready spacecraft and equipment for flights that would launch planetary probes, repair the Hubble Space Telescope and process the largest space complex in history -- the International Space Station.
NASA also evolved how it handled the business of launching planetary probes and satellites with the use of the Expendable Launch Vehicle program in the late 1980s. Private contractors took on a larger role in testing and processing spacecraft while NASA maintained oversight of the launch facilities.
Image left: Space Shuttle Columbia arrives at Launch Pad 39A on Dec. 29, 1980, in preparation for its maiden liftoff on April 12, 1981. Photo credit NASA/KSC + View Larger Image
As NASA readies new spacecraft for a return to the moon, Kennedy workers continue to prepare the orbiter fleet for important missions to finish the International Space Station and modify facilities to handle the new Orion vehicles.
The record of success may seem like a finish line to some, but we see it as a starting point for NASA's explorations that power the future.
Bill Parsons, Center Director
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center