After finishing the history tour of Cape Canaveral, I had a few hours to explore some other museums in the area. I learned a lot during my afternoon on the Space Coast while visiting three outstanding space and aviation centered museums.
Sands History Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida
The history center documents all the rocket launches that have been made from the Cape.
I met volunteer docent, Joe Swiger, who has worked at the museum for several years. Joe worked in payloads for twenty-two years with NASA and met Astronaut John Glenn. Glenn told him that he did not want to return to space, there were too many doctors involved. Joe retired as a Senior Master Sergeant from the Air Force in 1989. He helped take the first Space Shuttle to DC for display.
Joe was stationed at Patrick AFB when the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster occurred. A Navy P3 found the wreckage of the shuttle, and a Demark salvage company was brought in to retrieve the wreckage of the shuttle. He understood from one of the physicians that the astronauts all died from shock.
A collector of flight patches, Joe trades patches with a Russian friend who works with the Russian space agency. Never overlook a docent at a museum, they are well informed and can give you insight into the place they know well.
The nice thing about the center is you can touch items here that you would be unable to do in other museums. Joe told me many stories while we toured the exhibits.
During the Gemini program both astronauts were seated in ejection seats, should they have to leave the spacecraft suddenly. Wally Schriaa wrote that he had rather die than use the ejection seat because he was sure it would have killed him.
You can see and look through a periscope from blockhouses where the first rocket launches were conducted. There are no windows in the blockhouses.
NASA had gotten rid of all blueprints for building the big rockets. When engineer Norm Jacks retired, NASA paid to move his entire office to his home. Jacks had all the blueprints and NASA paid him five million dollars in order to recoup the blueprints.
Sands History Center is an informative museum for learning about the rocket launches from the Cape. If you are unable to access Patrick AFB to tour the on-base Air Force Museum, then Sands will provide you with practically the same information.
American Space Museum and Walk of Fame, Titusville, Florida
America’s Space Museum tells the story of the people who worked at NASA. I met Mark Marquette, the museum’s Community Liaison, who showed me around this marvelous museum dedicated to the preservation of our history in space. I happened to be there on October 4, which is the day in 1957 that Sputnik launched and the world was changed.
The non-profit museum began 25 years ago in a small space in a local mall. Now in its current location for the past five years is their sixth. Charlie Mars, a former NASA executive, is the godfather of the museum. Astronaut Fred Haise serves as a board member.
Mark told me, ‘Everything here has a reason to be here.’ Everything is authentic. 90% of the artifacts would be in a dumpster if people hadn’t rescued it. They have a lot of things from Ransom Road junkyard, where NASA dumps many of its items. They are known to get rid of everything.
There are numerous artifacts here divided amongst six galleries, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Women in Space, Space Shuttle and Cape Canaveral. For example, consoles from shuttle launches, a one-inch piece of rope that was part of a 60 feet role that was on the surface of the moon and a piece of Apollo 13. The artifacts are extraordinary and many of them have been signed by astronauts. There are thousands of stories to be told here.
The museum needs sponsors for the galleries and its long term goal is to put every 4th grader in Brevard County through the museum. That will be an expensive endeavor.
I marveled at the artifacts from the Mercury program that reside here. A reclaimed Atlas hatch that had washed up on the breach that someone found as well as an original Mission Control sign.
Some of the donated items included John Glenn’s hard hat and the button used to launch his rocket. Glenn’s gloves he used during his flight. They have lights on the tip of fingers so he could see while in the capsule was in darkness. They were powered 9-volt battery.
Glenn wore a mirror on the front of his suit to be able to see controls, which would have been upside down. Tom O’Malley, the launch director’s desk is part of the gallery.
Here you will see Gus Grissom’s flight suit he wore after Gemini 3 flight. He and Astronaut Ed White were to be first men on the moon. But they both perished in the Apollo 1 fire.
During the Gemini 8 flight with Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott, the capsule began to spin uncontrollably. The thruster that failed is on display. It had been thrown into a desk drawer.
A dentist in Titusville in the ‘90s saw the celebrity handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles and wanted to get the astronaut’s handprints. He was able to get both Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong handprints and there are forty-four handprints in Space View Park in Titusville.
Women in Space Gallery
Here you will see the photographs of every woman who has launched into space. Forty women have flown in space. Currently, Jessica Muir and Christina Koch, are on the space station and completed the first all-woman spacewalk.
The handprints of Eileen Collins, 1st woman commander of the space shuttle, are a prized exhibit.
Astronaut Kathy Thornton, a friend of the museum, donated her work clothes, the jumpsuit she was on the shuttle. Kathy is shown in the video of Hubble space telescope, where the solar panels being thrown off the end of the shuttle’s arm.
Complex 36 Launch Room
Pad 36 launch control room, used until 1985, Atlas and Titans were launched from here. There is a three-minute video of an actual launch from 1985, which was a communication satellite for Spain. Computers were built in the 1960s. All of the computers were thrown out and the museum restored. From 1960-1985, 300 rockets launched from pad 36.
The Space workers
Space worker and volunteer, Gary worked on the Gemini program and with Jacques Cousteau in oceanography and built lights and cameras for Bob Ballard. Docent, Mike, worked on the space lab and the Space Shuttle Bob Sieck, treasurer for the museum, launched 52 shuttles. He said that NASA was a great place to work because if something went wrong, NASA’s attitude was not that you screwed up, but what had NASA done wrong in training you to not prepare you for the issue. NASA was more concerned with what had it done wrong that created the failure.
Space shuttle memorial
The museum has a room that honors the two Space Shuttle disasters. The 25th launch-Challenger and 113th launch-Columbia.
Children of Israel remember the first Israel astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died aboard Columbia. In February 2003, children sent letters to NASA from children remembering Ramon. NASA gave the museum the letters. In the Summer, 2004, the children showed up to visit the museum and recognized the letters.
A man in Michigan, a space enthusiast, put together all the articles on the space shuttles for all the shuttle missions. His daughter donated them to the museum after his death.
Space View Park is a short two blocks from the Museum. There you can see the handprints of the seven Mercury astronauts, memorials to Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle Programs. Space View Park is a place you will want to visit or even watch a launch from the Cape. The Museum raised one million for the exhibits in Space View Park. The City of Titusville now owns the park.
Valiant Air Command, Titusville, Florida
I happened to get to the Valiant Air Command shortly before they were to close but Malcolm, a museum docent, was kind and led me on a speedy tour of the Warbird Museum. Malcolm explained as we walked that he had flown British aircraft and had previously volunteered at the Smithsonian.
Founded in 1977, the non-profit museum, located at the Space Coast Regional Airport, has grown to house over 50 vintage aircraft. And impressive aircraft they are. The earliest aircraft in the museum was built in 1949. I believe pictures will tell you a better story of this tireless group of pilots, mechanics, and restorers.
The Canberra is a jet-powered medium bomber built in the 1950s that served most of its life with the RAF and came to Valiant in 2011.
While I only had a short time to enjoy this amazing museum with a dedicated staff of volunteers who preserve our aviation history, I will return to embrace the Valiant Museum’s experience fully on my next trip to the Space Coast.