Kennedy Space Center Story

Chapter 18
1991 Edition

Community, Public and Press

The growing space program brought profound changes to the Florida coastal communities surrounding the Kennedy Space Center. Brevard County, in which the Space Center is located, became Florida's 25th county in March 1844. However, the changes the county experienced between 1963 and 1969 occurred faster and touched more people than those during any comparable period in the previous 119 years.

Prior to the space boom, Brevard's economy was largely based on citrus production. Of 839,404 acres (335,762 hectares) in the county, more than 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares) were cultivated to produced the famed Indian River oranges and grapefruit.

In 1950, Brevard's population, which depended mainly upon this agricultural resource, was 23,700. When new government programs began developing missiles for defense, the capability of the Eastern Test Range kept pace and launch complexes and industrial facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station were constructed. Thousands of government and contractor employees streamed in to operate the Range and conduct launches. This explosive growth raised Brevard's population to 91,900 by 1958. Yet sizable as the expansion prior to 1960 was, the decision to undertake the Apollo program and the choice of north Merritt Island as the launch base caused a much heavier impact. Population soared to 247,500 in the next 10 years.

The state of Florida joined with NASA and the Air Force to help the community solve the problems that accompanied rapid growth. A Joint Community Impact Coordination Committee was formed. It provided information to the community regarding the phased buildup of the work force. In turn, the community advised the committee of anticipated problems, the need for federal assistance and plans to solve the problems. The committee functioned as a catalyst in relation to federal agencies which could provide help in constructing and expanding roads and bridges, water supplies, hospitals and schools.

The Federal Housing Administration encouraged the construction of homes and apartments by underwriting loans. Federal aid also assisted in building new facilities at the Melbourne Regional Airport and the Space Center Executive Airport, south of Titusville, near KSC.

NASA and the Air Force contributed directly to solving some problems. When traffic bottlenecked on the two-lane, low-level bridges crossing the rivers between Merritt Island and its neighboring towns, the county appealed to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. At his urging, NASA and the Air Force each contributed $2 million to help finance high-rise four-lane bridges.

These collective efforts continued into the spring of 1965. Subcommittees representing municipal governments, civic groups and business interests pursued specific projects. An East Central Florida Regional Planning Council was organized. Jointly supported by the seven contiguous counties, it took an active part in community planning. By 1965, the area was well on the way to meeting its needs, and the Impact Coordination Committee was disbanded.

Brevard's period of accelerated growth did not last forever. Although KSC manpower grew, employment at the Air Force Eastern Test Range began to decline. In 1967, 16,710 personnel in the county were employed by the Range. By 1971, employment was down to 14,881.

Employment at KSC peaked in 1968, with 26,500 people working on the Apollo program. But by July 1970, national priorities had been realigned and, in the harsh light of reduced funding, KSC's work force was pared to 15,000. The unemployment rate in the county soared because there were no local industries to absorb the engineers and technicians now without work.

Brevard County followed three avenues to stabilize and diversify the economic base: small industries, not related to space technology, were encouraged to locate in the area; realtors actively solicited retired people to purchase homes; and the county's promotional organizations pushed for more tourists.

Midway through 1971, the economic situation began to improve. Retirees found the housing market attractive. Condominium construction increased, and retail sales rose.

Following Skylab, employment at the Center dropped to around 8,000, where it remained until Shuttle activities edged it up to a 1981 complement of about 12,000, and 15,000 by 1985. In the late 1980s, with a healthy economy and the resurgence in unmanned launches and the build-up of the Space Shuttle program, the Brevard County population continued its upswing. The Titusville-based Space Coast Development Commission projected the county would have nearly half a million inhabitants by the year 2000. At KSC, the employment level rebounded from its post-Challenger slump of 13,700 to about 17,000 in the late 1980s. The extent of KSC's contribution to the Florida economy is substantial: more than $1 billion in fiscal year 1988 alone through jobs and contracts.

* * * * * *

(For up-to-date information on tours and prices to visit Kennedy Space Center, go to the Visitor Complex Web site at

During its history, KSC has been host to scores of distinguished visitors: presidents of the United States, heads of foreign nations, senators, representatives, ambassadors, business leaders, prominent educators, and foreign delegations, including cosmonauts. Official guests have toured the facilities, attended launches and participated in special events held at the Center.

The official visitors, however, have been far outnumbered by the general public. Kennedy Space Center has become Florida's fourth most popular attraction for visitors to the state. More than 42 million people have toured the spaceport, eager to see at closer range the place where America's space program began and continues to flourish. The number of visitors has steadily increased, and today averages about three million annually.

In anticipation of public interest in NASA's activities, the congressional act which created the agency in 1958 charged it with the responsibility to widely disseminate the results of its projects. In 1963, U.S. congressional Representative Olin Teague of Texas, chairman of the House Manned Space Flight Subcommittee, raised the question of public access to the Center.

NASA Administrator James Webb pointed out that NASA had to comply with the policies of the Department of Defense, which controlled access to Cape Canaveral. However, NASA would consider allowing tours of its installation after construction was completed.

However, that same year the Air Force decided to open Cape Canaveral to the public. Motorists could drive through the installation during a three-hour period each Sunday. As they entered the gate. they received booklets which traced the tour route and provided information on the facilities. Visitors were not permitted to stop, but they could take photographs from their moving cars.

Facilities on Merritt Island were sufficiently advanced by November 1964 to permit the same type of Sunday drive-through tour. Visitors could tour either or both installations, using the NASA Causeway which linked Cape Canaveral with U.S. Highway 1 on the mainland. The public's response was enthusiastic.

NASA eventually extended the drive-through policy to include national holidays and Saturdays, and increased the access hours from three to six. The Center set up a modest collection of model rockets and pictures in a warehouse for visitors to view. The attendance at this makeshift museum grew rapidly as the Gemini program began.

Early in 1965, the National Park Service recommended a means of satisfying the public's curiosity about space. A 100-page report predicted a steady buildup in attendance. These projections were based on the assumption that a suitable visitors center would be constructed, that escorted bus tours would be conducted daily and that NASA would develop a program to enhance understanding of space exploration and the activities conducted at KSC.

Based on the study, an architectural firm drew designs for the visitors facility. NASA selected a site on its own property, one mile (1.6 kilometers) west of the Industrial Area.

Guidelines were established for the bus tours. Visitors would be permitted to drive to the new center, where they could view exhibits and films and attend aerospace lecture demonstrations at no cost. If they took the bus tour, they would pay a modest fee to cover its cost. The free drive-through tour would continue.

NASA contracted with a commercial firm to operate the visitors center and the bus tour. Temporary structures were erected on NASA-owned property bordering the Indian River on the mainland. A small exhibit building, bus terminal, and parking lot were readied, with adjacent souvenir stands, snack bars, restrooms and business off ices. The General Services Administration rented 10 overhauled buses -- each of which had traveled two million (3.2 million kilometers) miles -- to start the tours. These were leased in turn to the contractor, which employed escort-drivers. NASA laid out the tour routes, coordinating the portions on Cape Canaveral with the Air Force.

The bus tours began in July 1966 with a single 55-mile (89-kilometer) trip that lasted more than two hours. On the Cape side, patrons stopped at the Mission Control Center used for Mercury launches and at the Air Force Space Museum, where they could photograph rocket displays. At Complex 39 on KSC, they stopped at a Saturn V launch pad and entered the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

(For up-to-date information on tours and prices to visit Kennedy Space Center, go to the Visitor Complex Web site at

Visitors wishing to take a guided bus tour today may elect to go on the Cape-side trip, which stops at many historic sites, including the early Redstone and Mercury launch pads where America's space program began. A second option is the KSC tour. The trip inside the Vehicle Assembly Building had to be discontinued due to Shuttle operational requirements, but most buses can still drive past the Launch Complex 39 pads, and visitors can photograph the Apollo launch sites that have been converted to accommodate the Shuttle.

Next to the vast Vehicle Assembly Building, visitors can view another giant, the Saturn V rocket that carried men to the moon. Displayed horizontally, this exhibit was part of "Third Century America," the U.S. Bicentennial Exposition on Science and Technology, held at KSC during the summer of 1976. Also included on the KSC tour are visits to a huge simulated Apollo firing room in the Engineering Development Laboratory, where the launch of Apollo 11 and the first lunar landing are re-created -- using the actual equipment and the recorded voices of the astronauts and launch team.

As the popularity of the tour program grew, KSC pressed forward to obtain larger, permanent facilities. Escalating construction costs made it impossible to build the original design. So it was decided to prepare the chosen site west of the Industrial Area, install utilities, and erect interim prefabricated structures. These buildings opened in August 1967. Two auditoriums, each seating 250, as well as a snack bar, souvenir sales area, and ticket counter, were provided.

Since renamed Spaceport USA, the visitors center has been expanded many times to better serve the increasing number of guests and to provide new displays. Additions include the Hall of History, where space equipment and technology are displayed, and the Carousel Cafeteria. A huge new theater complex, the Galaxy Center, features two theaters and three exhibit areas. "The Boy from Mars," a recent addition to the film collection, offers a vision of the future, when colonization of space and Mars has occurred and the first child born on the red planet learns about the Earth from which his ancestors came.

There is a charge for one theater, the IMAX. The 70 millimeter IMAX projection system uses a curved screen 70 feet (21.3 meters) wide and 50 feet (15.2 meters) high, supported by a six-track stereo sound system, to show imagery taken largely in space. The viewer experiences, as realistically as possible, the thrilling sights and sounds of space flight. IMAX movies are only available at a few places throughout the world.

Life on a futuristic space station is revealed in "Satellites and You," a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation recently added at Spaceport USA. Visitors can also learn more about the plants and wildlife indigenous to KSC's vast wildlife refuge from an exhibit sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Spaceport USA is open every day of the year except Christmas, and for limited periods during Shuttle launch operations.

(For up-to-date information on tours and prices to visit Kennedy Space Center, go to the Visitor Complex Web site at

* * * * * *

Educational activities play a major role in NASA's program of disseminating information to the public. The Kennedy Space Center's education staff serves a region embracing Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, providing educational resources to professional educators, students of all grade levels, civic groups and various organizations such as PTAs and Scouts.

The educational community is kept up-to-date on NASA research and development programs through conferences, technical briefings, educational television and teacher programs that vary from one-day seminars to two-week participation workshops. "Teacher kits," containing a wide assortment of comprehensive literature, are mailed to instructors on request.

Aerospace science and technology talks and demonstrations are provided at a "hands-on" activities center at Spaceport USA, with material suitable for primary and secondary level students. Educational support is provided to planetariums, science centers, science fairs and youth programs. Certificates of outstanding achievement are presented yearly at Florida and Georgia state science and engineering fairs to award winners selected by NASA personnel from KSC. In addition, one outstanding science fair winner of suitable age is awarded a summer job at KSC each year.

Summer jobs at KSC are also awarded each year to a group of academically talented students who compete with their peers to win the appointments. These Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program (SHARP) students undergo an intensive work/learning experience in the area of their particular career interests, under the sponsorship and direction of a working KSC scientist or engineer. This program, in effect since the 1979/80 school year, helps determine career choices for some of the brightest local area students by exposing them to the "real world" of high technology and science.

The education staff also is responsible for answering the more than 100,000 queries from the general public which KSC receives each year. Each letter receives individual attention. Requests from students can usually be met with a kit of more than 20 items, including Shuttle mission reports, space program history, material about astronaut selection and training, and brochures on all phases of operations from launch preparation to liftoff and landing.

Larger kits specially tailored to either teachers or libraries are also sent out, and can be customized to suit individual requests. Altogether, an average of 10,000 responses to queries are sent out monthly during the school year, with the numbers typically increasing in the periods immediately before, during and after a Shuttle launch.

The Spacemobile Program is another activity that demonstrates NASA's commitment to aerospace education for the schools and the general public. KSC sponsors two vans, which cover Florida and Georgia. Other NASA Centers cover different parts of the country. These units, manned by experienced teachers, come equipped with models, dynamic exhibits, films, slides and other visual aids. In effect, the aerospace specialists operating these vans take the classroom to the student, working with teachers and school science departments throughout the region to bring space technology directly to the students. In a typical year, the two KSC Spacemobile lecturers conduct some 1,200 demonstrations involving more than 250,000 students.

The KSC education staff also works with NASA Headquarters and other NASA Centers in bringing various groups of educators to KSC to tour the Center, receive briefings, and see Space Shuttle launches.

* * * * * *

The "open door" policy which admits the press to cover NASA launches was instituted in 1958, completely reversing the government's position on military launches during the 1950s. In those days the military services secretly conducted test launches of ballistic missiles from Cape Canaveral. During early operations, even the shape of the rocket standing on the pad was concealed. Except for the military, government, and contractor employees involved in the programs, security precautions demanded that no one know the date and time of the launch, what would be tested, and what happened after launch.

Reporters avidly grasped at rumors, and watched motel registers for the telltale names of managers and engineers identified with particular rockets. Reporters and photographers spent hours on Cocoa Beach, or along the jetties at Port Canaveral, looking northward in hope of seeing a launch. Terse official announcements were made after each launch, since the roar of rocket motors could not be hushed. Usually the statement merely said that the launch was a success, a partial success or a failure.

Project Vanguard, which began in 1955, marked a change in the government's handling of information related to rocket systems. Vanguard's objective was to place a ball-shaped satellite into Earth orbit as the U.S. contribution to the International Geophysical Year, a worldwide study of atmospheric and space phenomena. This would be the first U.S. attempt to launch a satellite into orbit. Although the Naval Research Laboratory developed the carrier rocket and its satellite, the program was non-military. Detailed descriptions of the rocket, satellite and tracking network were released to the press regularly as work progressed.

The press corps was invited to enter Cape Canaveral and cover the first Vanguard launch attempt in December 1957. Reporters and radio and television commentators received briefings, and communications lines were installed for them. On Dec. 6 they were taken to view the launch from an elevated site on the Cape.

To their astonishment, Vanguard rose several feet, then settled back slowly and exploded in flames.

Despite the outcome of the launch, a precedent had been established for press coverage. Thereafter, the commander of the Atlantic Missile Range (later the Eastern Test Range) arranged for reporters to cover all but the classified military launches. In return, the resident press agreed not to publish information in advance, not to report on postponements, and to report their stories only "when fire appeared in the tail."

This arrangement governed coverage when the Army Ballistic Missile Agency prepared for its attempt to launch a satellite. A few guarded, brief items appeared in the newspapers as launch day neared, but little was known about either the Juno I rocket or the satellite. Canvas shrouds hung from the service structure at Complex 26 to conceal the vehicle's shape as long as possible. This rocket, a Jupiter C with an added fourth stage, roared into the night on Jan. 31, 1958, successfully carrying the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, into Earth orbit.

When NASA was organized in October 1958, it liberalized the press policy. Every detail of preparation for Project Mercury flights received saturation coverage by television, radio, films, and newspapers. Lt. Col. John Powers, assigned to NASA from the Air Force, attained national fame as the "Voice of Mercury." The media reported Gemini launches with even more extensive coverage.

Anticipating requirements for the Apollo program, KSC constructed a press site at Launch Complex 39. A sheltered grandstand accommodates 350 reporters. Television and radio networks built trailer studios or buildings next to the grandstand. The facilities were ready for Apollo 4 in November 1967.

Attendance by the media and contractor public relations personnel at a KSC launch ebbs and flows as the space program continues to evolve. The first Saturn V launch drew only 510 requests for accreditation. But media and contractor public relations representation swelled as the Apollo program progressed, and by the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969, NASA's resources were being tested. Apollo 11 drew 3,497 requests for accreditation; 1,788 persons were actually on hand for the historic event.

After Apollo 11, press attendance slacked off. Apollo 17, the last in the program and the only night launch, prompted a resurgence in attendance figures, as did the Apollo-Soyuz Project in 1975.

The first Shuttle launch was the biggest show ever in the manned space program, with 2,707 accredited media and public relations representatives present. In September 1988 the flight of Discovery (STS-26), the first Shuttle mission after the Challenger accident, drew a record 5,200 requests for accreditation. The number of media and contractor public relations representatives who showed up for the launch was 2,468 -- the second highest ever for a launch from KSC.

Prelaunch briefings are arranged for the media. at which top NASA managers and officials from other organizations discuss preparations for the mission and its payloads. After the launch, press representatives are briefed on the results of that Phase of the mission.

Chapter 19 | Table of Contents
Find this article at: