Sept. 12, 2012
I’m speaking here this week at Astronaut Encounter at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, meeting people from all over the planet, I’m energized by the enthusiasm and thirst for new discoveries in space shown by our visitors. The spirit of space exploration, pioneered by Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and now the International Space Station, is captured here at the Visitor Complex. Here we come face to face with the history and hardware of the last fifty years of our work on the space frontier. I’m like a kid in a candy store.
The Mercury-Atlas rocket and capsule, a replica of the booster that sent John Glenn around the world on America’s first orbital flight, was just erected here at the Visitor Complex. The Mercury-Atlas joins the Gemini-Titan II, an actual space booster, towering over the smaller vehicles in the Rocket Garden. The Gemini Titan II was assembled and tested in Middle River, MD, about two miles from my boyhood home. As a 10-year-old boy, I visited Gemini Titans for Geminis 7 and 8, and secretly promised myself I would one day ride a rocket. The biggest booster in the Rocket Garden is the Saturn IB that stood by as the rescue launcher for our Skylab space station crews.
Mercury-Atlas 6 Replica
KSC Visitor Center Complex
Gemini IX launch (NASA)
Space shuttle Endeavour—my first ship–leaves here Monday for its final voyage to the West Coast, and Atlantis will move to the Visitor Complex this fall, to its permanent home welcoming returning astronauts and all those who love the story of spaceflight.
Visiting Endeavour, Sept. 11, 2012
Just a few miles north is the Apollo-Saturn V moon rocket, on spectacular display overlooking Banana Creek and Launch Complex 39 pads that sent Americans to the Moon (and me aloft on my four space shuttle flights). I’ve been lucky enough to meet many of the Apollo astronauts, and had the pleasure of working with several at NASA’s astronaut office, on the NASA Advisory Council, and in the educational efforts of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
One of those exemplary figures was Neil Armstrong, whom we lost last month when he passed away at age 82. Neil, the first human to walk on the Moon, will be memorialized tomorrow at the National Cathedral. He was a skilled aviator, test pilot, and engineer, a committed explorer, an able spokesman on the importance of exploration to the nation, and a role model for an entire generation of astronauts.
Full credit and thanks to ©Steve Breen: San Diego Union Tribune
I most appreciated his modesty and dignity as he dealt with the celebrity that history thrust upon him. Neil made his fame serve a higher purpose. We honor his service and courage, and we will miss him.
Here at Kennedy Space Center, NASA and its partners are creating our future in space in the form of the machines that will carry our footsteps alongside Neil and his colleagues, then beyond to the nearby asteroids and Mars. Even more important, though, are leaders who will commit us to challenging goals on the space frontier, follow through with the resources needed to succeed, and inspire our young explorers to fulfill that dream.
Tom Jones is a veteran astronaut, planetary scientist, and author of Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir: www.AstronautTomJones.com.