Kennedy Space Center Story

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1991 Edition

An entire chapter of U.S. history has been written at the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC). As the departure site for our first journey to the Moon, and hundreds of scientific, commercial, and applications spacecraft, and now as the base for Space Shuttle launch and landing operations, KSC plays a pivotal role in the nation's space program.

Located on the east coast of Florida approximately midway between Jacksonville and Miami, the 140,000 acres (56,700 hectares) controlled by the Center represent a melding of technology and nature. Wildlife thrives here, alongside the immense steel-and-concrete structures of the nation's major launch base. KSC is a national wildlife refuge, and part of its coastal area is a national seashore by agreement between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of the Interior. More than 200 species of birds live here year-round, and in the colder months large flocks of migratory waterfowl arrive from the North and stay for the winter. Many species of endangered wildlife are native to this area: the Southern bald eagle, brown pelican, manatee, peregrine falcon, green sea turtle, and Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.

KSC extends about 34 miles (55 kilometers) from north to south and measures 10 miles (16 kilometers) at its widest point. Located primarily on Merritt Island, the facility is bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River, and on the west by the Indian River. The northern boundary is some 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Daytona Beach, and the southern tip is just across the Banana River from Port Canaveral.

Essentially flat, KSC land averages about five feet (1.5 meters) above sea level. Extensive marshes and scrub vegetation, including saw palmetto, blanket most of the terrain. Cabbage palm, slash pine and oak grow on higher ground. Long rows of Australian pine protect citrus groves planted by early settlers on Merritt Island.

Archaeologists have uncovered burial mounds and shell middens (refuse piles) left by small bands of prehistoric Indians who inhabited the area thousands of years ago. These Indians were attracted by the abundance of marine food found in the marshes and saltwater creeks in the area.

Spanish fleets en route from the New World to the mother country once sailed the Gulf Stream off Cape Canaveral. Treasure hunters still search for traces of galleons which foundered off the coast and deposited their contents on the ocean floor.

There are more than 1,500 acres (607 hectares) of citrus groves on the Center. These lands are leased to individuals--in many cases the original owners--who care for the trees and harvest their fruit. Beekeepers collect honey from and maintain the hives of bees essential to the pollination of citrus trees. The lease arrangements are administered by the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The nerve center of KSC is Launch Complex 39. This is the location of the Vehicle Assembly Building, where Saturn V vehicles were once prepared for launch. This massive building is now the NASA assembly site for the Space Shuttle.

Some 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) to the east of the assembly building are the two launch pads where journeys into space begin. Five miles (eight kilometers) south is the KSC Industrial Area, where many of the Center's support facilities are located. First Apollo and now Shuttle crews prepare here for the next mission. Here also are the administrative headquarters for KSC operations, the offices of the Center director and other NASA and contractor managers.

Spaceport USA, the KSC visitors center, is located on the NASA Causeway (an extension of State Road 405), south of Titusville, and six miles east (9.6 kilometers) from U.S. Highway 1. Available to visitors at no cost are displays of spacecraft, rockets and space equipment; space and aeronautic exhibits; and space science films and demonstrations. The IMAX, one of two theatres, has an admission fee. The IMAX production is an experience much like actually being there during a Shuttle liftoff, or working with astronauts in the vast openness of space. Also available for a modest fee are conducted bus tours through Kennedy Space Center and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

As the role of the spaceport changed with the demands of the national space program, the organization of KSC altered to meet those needs. In keeping with NASA's philosophy of using private industry and the nation's universities wherever possible, the majority of KSC employees work for aerospace contractors. In addition to the work tasks required to assemble, process and launch the Space Shuttle, its payloads and crews, a variety of support functions are necessary to keep this large installation operating. These include day-to-day supply, transportation, grounds maintenance, documentation, drafting, and design engineering. Contractors bid competitively on these functions, and are awarded contracts based on their bids. Contracts are administered by KSC's NASA civil service work force. (In keeping with the purposes of this history, a company is referred to by its name at the time of contract performance. In some instances, these names have since changed).

KSC is one of 12 NASA field installations spread across the nation. NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., formulates policy for the agency and coordinates the specialized activities of each NASA facility. The other NASA installations are:

Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, Calif.
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio.
George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, La.
John C. Stennis Space Center, Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island,Va.

The technology, equipment and concepts developed during the early days of space exploration were the building blocks for an operational spaceport. We have broken the bonds of Earth and traveled into space and back on many occasions. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo ... America's space travelers have given new meaning to these names from Greek and Roman mythology. In this era of the Space Shuttle, the journey into space continues. These pages tell of the people and the programs responsible for creating a gateway to the solar system, and beyond.

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