Bas relief of the original 8 astronauts of the Mercury program
(click image to enlarge)
I visited the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at Cape Canaveral last week. It has been over 20 years since I last visited the Center, and the changes were significant. As is the way of things in the Sunshine State, bits and pieces of old Florida are eventually replaced with a newer more Disneyfied version. The Center has not escaped that evolution.
The Center used to have a field where various rockets -- from the Redstone to the Saturn -- were displayed, a large building holding capsules and other space hardware and two tours. One tour was of the old Mercury and Gemini facilities (the Mercury pad was particularly striking with the blockhouse very near the launch pad and stuffed full of tube powered analog computers and, as its center piece, the large red button you pushed to launch the rocket). The other tour was of the Apollo facilities and featured launch control, the VAB and the Shuttle landing strip.
Upon entering the Center on this trip the first thing I noticed was the change to the rocket field, now called the rocket garden. It now had large buildings along its perimeter and pathways, some elevated, wound between the rockets. The effect was to obscure both their actual size and their size relative to the other rockets. It was difficult to compare them to each other.
The Saturn rocket has been moved and is now housed inside a very large building. Again, its size is somewhat obscured by not being as easily visible as well as now being contained in a larger
structure. On the plus side the Shuttle Atlantis was now also being displayed. It was hung at an angle in a large building with its cargo bay doors open and, with two levels of walkways, you could get a very good look at it.
The museum that had the capsules and hardware was no more. I assume some of the stuff got scattered, but I never saw the Mercury, Gemini or Soyuz capsules, nor the Skylab mockup. In place of the museum were a number of 3D and iMax movies. I didn't watch any.
I think the old Mercury and Gemini pads got disassembled -- it is a shame they didn't at least move the Mercury blockhouse. Launch complex 34, where the Apollo Moon missions took off from has been leased by SpaceX. They've constructed their own launch tower.
The Center used to be the best tourists trap in Florida and I think it still ranks up there as one of the best to visit. It's a shame some of the history seems to have been lost or minimized, but I suspect it is a better stop for families these days. Regardless, if you're in Florida be sure to schedule a visit.