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Kennedy Space Center – Cape Canaveral Then & Now

Rating: * * * * *
Time: Approximately 3 hours
Short Take: Stirring history for true space buffs

This tour is sometimes changed or modified to accommodate launch activity, making it difficult to predict what you will actually see on the day of your visit. It also requires a much greater exercise of the imagination than does the KSC Tour (although that’s probably a good thing). Still, I suspect there will be those who will slightly prefer this tour to the other. The main reason is that on this one you actually get to enter the places where space history was made, even if those places are now mere empty concrete spaces where towering launch gantries once stood.

It was from Cape Canaveral that the first Americans were launched into space. You can walk through a blockhouse that housed mission control for the early Mercury missions and stroll out to the pad from which puny looking Redstone rockets launched the first Americans into space using a gantry jury-rigged from an old oil drilling rig. The room-sized computer used for these launches could be replaced by a modern laptop, with plenty of room left over on the hard drive for games. Next door is a small museum with a collection of artifacts relating to the early days of the space program.

Much of the launch pad area has been turned into a sort of outdoor sculpture garden displaying two dozen or so rockets and missiles, including my personal favorite, the sleekly magnificent and rather sexy Snark.

Another powerful moment comes on a visit to the actual launch pad on which Apollo astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives in a tragic fire during a dress rehearsal of the first Apollo flight. The site is now a monument to their memory. Another monument of sorts that is glimpsed on this tour is the Minuteman missile silo in which the remains of the Space Shuttle Challenger were placed after the investigation of that accident.

Cape Canaveral entered the space age in 1950 with tests of captured German V-2 rockets. But it is far from being a dusty museum or a monument to the past. It is a bustling modern spaceport from which a wide variety of unmanned military, scientific, and commercial satellites are launched into orbit, including many of the satellites that provide our telephone communications and weather forecasting. As you drive around, you may catch glimpses of preparations for upcoming launches.

The narration for this tour is handled by both the driver and a guide, who banter back and forth much in the style of co-hosts on a morning news program. Their knowledge is considerable and their devotion to their jobs and the history entrusted to them apparent. Either side of the bus is okay since you get to walk up to and into the most interesting sights. As with KSC Up Close, you will be dropped off at the Apollo/Saturn Center at the end of your tour, where you may take a bus straight back to the Visitor Complex, or proceed to the International Space Station Center.

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