In the past, tours of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station were very limited. Fortunately that has changed; the 45th Space Wing
is now hosting free tours on a more regular basis. This tour used to take place only once a month but now will run every Wednesday and Thursday, if there isn't a launch
or other mission operation going on.
This is a three-hour tour starting at the History Center, then moving to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, then to retired launch pads, and finally to the historic Cape Canaveral Lighthouse
. You'll also see active launch pads like Launch Complex 37B, from where the Delta 4 launches. The tour begins at 9 am but guests are asked to be at the History Center no later than 8:30 am for check-in and a security check. You travel in an air-conditioned bus and the tours are conducted by two civilian employees. At each stop you'll be allowed to explore for a few minutes and take pictures, so bring a camera.
Pictures from the Lighthouse & Missile Museum Tour »
Air Force Space and Missile Museum and History Center
The History Center, where the tour starts, is an extension of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum
. In the History Center you'll find historic information and displays for each launch complex or launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Air Force Space and Missile Museum
has many displays of missiles, rockets, and related space equipment; that's its main purpose, to collect, restore, and exhibit things of historical significance having to do with the development and heritage of U.S. Air Force space launch activities. This museum highlights the Air Force's participation in the space program and emphasizes activities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, both past and present.
This is the site of Launch Complex 5 & 6 where the chimpanzee Ham and the first manned sub-orbital Mercury capsule Freedom 7
with Alan Shepard
in it were launched.
Launch Complex 26
The Launch Complex 26 blockhouse
is a dual-pad single blockhouse facility with two firing rooms, one in support of each pad. The walls are two feet thick, and the dome-shaped roof is five feet thick along the edges and nearly eight feet thick directly overhead; this was important because it's just 400 feet from the launch pads. One of the coolest things about the firing rooms is that they still have much of the original equipment used in the launches, old computers, clocks, the desks and such.
This facility was built in 1956 to support the Redstone
, and Juno
programs; the first launch was in August of 1957. In 1958 the first American satellite
was launched and later in 1958 and in 1959 three "monkeynauts
," Gordo, Able, and Miss Baker, were launched from here; they paved the way for the first manned space flights. This complex was deactivated in 1963 after 36 launches and was designated for use as a space museum in 1964. In 1984 Launch Complex 26 was declared a National Historic Landmark
. Today it houses several exhibits and displays, including an actual small satellite.
There was a time when the Rocket Garden could boast one of the largest collections of rockets, missiles, re-entry vehicles, and related space hardware in the country. Over the years though, corrosion and exposure have taken a toll; some are gone and some need major repairs. A few of these are one-of-a-kind, the only remaining examples of key past missile programs, so it's important to maintain them. Fortunately the museum has started a restoration program of the Rocket Garden exhibits.
Cape Canaveral Lighthouse
One of the highlights of the tour is the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse; it's the oldest structure on the Cape. Now, there are many lighthouses in the state of Florida
, but what makes this one unique is that a lighthouse keeper and his family actually lived, for a short time, in the lighthouse itself.
The first lighthouse
was built in 1848; it was only 65 feet tall and powered by whale oil. In 1868 a new lighthouse was built, and the first three levels of the new tower were made into living quarters. An exterior staircase was built at the base so you could get to the top of the tower without having to go through the living area. It was taller, at 151 feet, and had a first order Fresnel lens with a light that could be seen for 22 miles. Originally painted white, it didn't get its distinctive black bands until 1873. In the early 1890s it was decided that the metal tower would be moved farther inland because it was felt that erosion threatened it. The Cape Canaveral light was relit at its new location on July 25, 1894.
In 1939 the Coast Guard took ownership of the lighthouse. In 1967 it was automated and in 1995 they started a thorough restoration. They built a new lantern room atop the lighthouse and put the original on display at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. The 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, took over the lighthouse in 2000, making this the only operational lighthouse owned by the US Air Force, The 45th Space Wing also relies on volunteers from the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation
. Starting in 2004 the lighthouse went through yet another restoration that ended when the beacon was relit in April of 2007; it shines to this day and is a reassuring sight even when you're just on the beach.
Launch Complex Tours
Launch Complex 34
The tour takes you by Launch Complex 34
where Gus Grissom
, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts
, along with Ed White
and Roger B. Chaffee were killed by a fire in their Command Module during a pre-launch test in January of 1967. The pad was active from October 1961 to October 1968 and seven launches left from it. After it was decommissioned, everything was torn down except the launch platform that stands at the center of the pad. There is a plaque affixed to this structure dedicated to the astronaut crew of Apollo 1
who gave their lives there.
From this pad today you have a great view of Complex 37
where the Delta IV rockets
Launch Complex 14
The tour also visits Launch Complex 14
where you'll find parking spaces designated for the original seven Mercury astronauts. This complex was used for manned and unmanned Atlas
flights. The pad is known for being the launch site of NASA's Mercury-Atlas 6
flight, which made John Glenn
the first American in orbit. It was used from June 1957 to November 1966, and 32 launches took off from here. A partial restoration was done by the 45th Space Wing in 1997.
The blockhouse contains historical documents, photos and memorabilia from Project Mercury
. The entrance road is marked by several memorials and signs commemorating Project Mercury, which include a large sculpture of the Project Mercury symbol constructed of titanium. There's a time capsule buried underneath it that contains technical documents of the Mercury program; it's scheduled to be opened in 2464.
There is so much history to see and enjoy on this tour that it's worth going more than once to take it all in, especially if you have even the slightest interest at all in the 'space race' era.
More Launch Pads Views
During the tour, you may also see Launch Complex 13
where Atlas rockets were launched; Launch Complexes 3 and 4 where SNARKS
, Bumper - WAC, Bomarc and Polaris FTV
were launched; and Launch Complex 19
where all of the Gemini manned spaceflights
as well as Titan I and II
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Public Tour Reservations
Hosted by the 45th Space Wing, the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Public Tour is available to the general public (with some restrictions). There is no charge, but reservations are required. Bus and most facilities are NOT handicap accessible.
These free historic tours take place Wednesdays and Thursdays; however, tours may be rescheduled if affected by mission requirements, military exercises or federal holidays. The tours begin at 9 a.m. and last approximately three hours. The tours begin at the Air Force Space and Missile History Center near the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station south gate. Other stops on the tour include the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and several historic launch complexes. For more information call 321-494-5945 or visit the Patrick AFB website
or visit the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation website
By Beverly Martinez-Collins – PlacesAroundFlorida.com