Most people visiting the Kennedy Space Center take the big tour of the modern Space Shuttle facilities. The cool tour for real space buffs, however, is the decrepit bus that takes you to the old part of the Cape, where the original Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launchpads still stand. You can walk out and stand on the same concrete pad that Alan Sheppard and John Glenn were launched from on their Mercury flights, the first manned suborbital and orbital flights for the U.S. in 1961. At that time our manned space program consisted primarily of taking a nuclear warhead off of an ICBM, dropping a Mercury capsule in its place and lighting the fuse to see what would happen. (As you can see, they couldnt make the capsule as small as the warhead for the Redstone rocket, so it stuck out over the edges a little.) Like the land-speed gearheads on the Salt Flats, these guys were making it up as they went along.
(click on photos to see larger versions)
Launch control couldnt be more than 100 feet from the rocket, and the equipment used to launch the rockets wasnt much more than advanced Ham radio gear. The computers used tape, and had to be rebooted all the time. Gus Grissom's Mercury capsule, the Liberty Bell 7, sank in the Atlantic ocean in 1961 after the hatch door blew off prematurely. It was recovered from the ocean floor on July 20, 1999 from a depth of 16,043 feet, and I've got a little piece of it. At auctions and through private sales over the past couple of years, Ive bought some original flight plans, including one from Apollo 13. On page 3-4 of the flight plan, if you look at the big version of the picture, you can quite clearly read the command Cycle O2 and H2 fans. That was the action that caused the spark that blew up the liquid oxygen tank. One day Id like to get the whole flight plan up on the web, perhaps with some comments by the astronauts themselves. Apollo 16 was launched in 1972, included the fifth lunar landing, and this flight plan is signed by the Lunar Module pilot, Charles Duke, the Director of Flight Crew Operations, Deke Slayton, and the manager of Apollo Spacecraft Programs James McDivitt. Apollo 17 was the last manned flight to the moon, and was launched on December 7, 1972. Gene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon, and this flight plan is signed by Harrison Schmitt, one of the crew members. This photo is of Buzz Aldrin in the Command Module during Apollo 11, the first moon landing. Its a scan from an original 35 mm piece of film from the mission. I remember like it was yesterday sitting with my father and watching Neil Armstrong step down the ladder onto the moons surface. This photo is from the Cape Kennedy tour; its the control room for all of the Apollo missions. It was still set up just the way it was during the missions. This is the new control room in Houston for the current set of Space Shuttle missions, mostly involving the heavy lifting of sections of the International Space Station. This is what the cockpit of the Space Shuttle looks like currently. The 22XP will be a lifeboat for the occupants of the Space Station should something go wrong up there. I also bought at auction the right, front corner of a flown Space Shuttle wing. Its carbon fibre on an aluminum frame. The best info on space is http://www.ksc.nasa.gov. There are other links on the links page.