U.S. history has been written at the John F. Kennedy Space
Center . As the departure site for our first journey to the
Moon, and hundreds of scientific, commercial, and applications
spacecraft, and now as the base for Space Shuttle launch and
Located on the east coast of Florida approximately midway
between Jacksonville and Miami, the 140,000 acres (56,700
hectares) controlled by the Center represent a melding of
technology and nature. Wildlife thrives here, alongside the
immense steel-and-concrete structures of the nation's major
launch base. KSC is a national wildlife refuge, and part of its
coastal area is a national seashore by agreement between the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the
Department of the Interior. More than 200 species of birds live
here year-round, and in the colder months large flocks of
migratory waterfowl arrive from the North and stay for the
winter. Many species of endangered wildlife are native to this
area: the Southern bald eagle, brown pelican, manatee, peregrine
falcon, green sea turtle, and Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.
KSC extends about 34 miles (55 kilometers) from north to south
and measures 10 miles (16 kilometers) at its widest point.
Located primarily on Merritt Island, the facility is bounded on
the east by the Atlantic Ocean and the Banana River, and on the
west by the Indian River. The northern boundary is some 25 miles
(40 kilometers) south of Daytona Beach, and the southern tip is
just across the Banana River from Port Canaveral.
Essentially flat, KSC land averages about five feet (1.5 meters)
above sea level. Extensive marshes and scrub vegetation,
including saw palmetto, blanket most of the terrain. Cabbage
palm, slash pine and oak grow on higher ground. Long rows of
Australian pine protect citrus groves planted by early settlers
on Merritt Island.
Archaeologists have uncovered burial mounds and shell middens
(refuse piles) left by small bands of prehistoric Indians who
inhabited the area thousands of years ago. These Indians were
attracted by the abundance of marine food found in the marshes
and saltwater creeks in the area.
Spanish fleets en route from the New World to the mother country
once sailed the Gulf Stream off Cape Canaveral. Treasure hunters
still search for traces of galleons which foundered off the
coast and deposited their contents on the ocean floor.
There are more than 1,500 acres (607 hectares) of citrus groves
on the Center. These lands are leased to individuals--in many
cases the original owners--who care for the trees and harvest
their fruit. Beekeepers collect honey from and maintain the
hives of bees essential to the pollination of citrus trees. The
lease arrangements are administered by the Merritt Island
National Wildlife Refuge.
The nerve center of KSC is Launch Complex 39. This is the
location of the Vehicle Assembly Building, where Saturn V
vehicles were once prepared for launch. This massive building is
now the NASA assembly site for the Space Shuttle.
Some 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) to the east of the assembly
building are the two launch pads where journeys into space
begin. Five miles (eight kilometers) south is the KSC Industrial
Area, where many of the Center's support facilities are located.
First Apollo and now Shuttle crews prepare here for the next
mission. Here also are the administrative headquarters for KSC
operations, the offices of the Center director and other NASA
and contractor managers.
Spaceport USA, the KSC visitors center, is located on the NASA
Causeway (an extension of State Road 405), south of Titusville,
and six miles east (9.6 kilometers) from U.S. Highway 1.
Available to visitors at no cost are displays of spacecraft,
rockets and space equipment; space and aeronautic exhibits; and
space science films and demonstrations. The IMAX, one of two
theatres, has an admission fee. The IMAX production is an
experience much like actually being there during a Shuttle
liftoff, or working with astronauts in the vast openness of
space. Also available for a modest fee are conducted bus tours
through Kennedy Space Center and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air