NASA Rocket Garden – Kennedy Space Centre

Now this is my kind of garden! The history of the early years of the US space program conducted by NASA are on display in the rocket garden at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Here you can see the Mercury-Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put US Astronauts into space.

Kennedy Space Centre entrance - Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters can be seen in the background
Kennedy Space Centre entrance – Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters can be seen in the background
NASA rocket garden Kennedy Space Center
Entrance to the NASA rocket garden
President Kennedy had a dream that NASA fulfilled
President Kennedy had a dream that NASA fulfilled
The Mercury Seven in 1960 - Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper; front row: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, Carpenter
The Mercury Seven in 1960 – Back row: Shepard, Grissom, Cooper; front row: Schirra, Slayton, Glenn, Carpenter (Photo Source: NASA)
NASA Rocket Garden
NASA Rocket Garden
The Rocket Garden makes for an impressive historic display at the Kennedy Space Centre
The Rocket Garden makes for an impressive historic display at the Kennedy Space Centre
Mercury-Redstone, Atlas, Titan and Saturn 1B rockets made up the early history of the NASA space program
Mercury-Redstone, Atlas, Titan and Saturn 1B rockets made up the early history of the NASA space program

The Mercury-Redstone rockets were used from 1960 to 1961 as part of the Mercury Program and put the first and second US Astronauts into space (May 5th, 1961 Alan Shepard and July 21st, 1961 Gus Grissom – the first man into space was Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who launched on April 12th, 1961 and orbited Earth once aboard Vostok 1). Prior to these launches the rocket was tested with an empty capsule twice in late 1960 (the first launch on November 21st was aborted due to an electrical fault but the December 19th launch was successful) and again on March 24th, 1961.

Alan Shepard aboard "Freedom 7" prior to launch May 5th, 1961
Alan Shepard aboard the Mercury-Redstone “Freedom 7” prior to launch May 5th, 1961 (Photo Source: NASA)
Mercury-Redstone rocket "Freedom 7" launches the first US Astronaut into space (Alan Shepard) May 5th, 1961
Mercury-Redstone rocket “Freedom 7” launches the first US Astronaut into space (Alan Shepard) May 5th, 1961 (Image Source: NASA)
Gus Grissom prepares to enter "Liberty Bell 7" on July 21st, 1961 2nd US Astronaut into space
Gus Grissom prepares to enter “Liberty Bell 7” on July 21st, 1961 (Photo Source: NASA)

The Mercury-Redstone rocket was also used to send Ham the Chimpanzee into orbit on January 31st, 1961. He was the first great ape to be launched into space. I can only imagine the terror the poor little guy went through but luckily he made it back to earth with just a bruised nose and took his place in history!

Ham the first chimp into space US space program 1961
Ham the Chimpanzee 1961 (Photo Source: NASA)

Whilst visiting the Kennedy Space Centre I decided to take an additional tour out to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where the early rocket launches were made. You visit the Air Force Missile Museum along with some of the original launch site complexes including such as Space Launch Complex 5/6 where Alan Shepard was first launched into space on March 6th, 1961. This was really cool and worth the extra fee to take in the historic nature of these early rocket launches (especially the launch bunkers).

The command bunker used to launch the first American Astronaut Alan Shepard into space in 1961 (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station)
The command bunker used to launch the first American Astronaut Alan Shepard into space on May 5th, 1961 (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station)
launch command bunker cape canaveral air force station
Inside the launch command bunker
Alan Shepard the first American Astronaut launched into space on May 5th, 1961
Alan Shepard the first American Astronaut launched into space on May 5th, 1961
A Mercury-Redstone rocket on the Launchpad where the first American Astronaut Alan Shepard was launched into space on May 5th, 1961 (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station)
A Mercury-Redstone rocket on the Launchpad at Space Launch Complex 5/6 where the first American Astronaut Alan Shepard was launched into space on May 5th, 1961 (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station)

The Atlas rocket was developed from a 1950’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and between 1962 to 1963 Atlas rockets launched the first American Astronauts into orbit of the Earth as part of the Mercury-Atlas Program. John Glenn was the first American to make this orbital journey when he was launched into space on February 20th, 1962 aboard “Friendship 7“. He orbited the Earth 3 times in a journey lasting 3 hours and 55 minutes (he also became he fifth American into space during that mission). Amazingly later versions of the Atlas rocket continue to be used by the military to deploy space assets and are planned to be in use until 2020!

The first 7 Astronauts with a model of the Atlas rocket on July 12th, 1962
The first 7 Astronauts with a model of the Atlas rocket on July 12th, 1962 – John Glenn is standing in the back on the right side (Photo Source: NASA)
Launch of Friendship 7, the first American manned orbital space flight. Astronaut John Glenn aboard, the Mercury-Atlas rocket is launched from Pad 14 at Cape Canaveral on February 20th, 1962
Launch of Friendship 7, the first American manned orbital space flight. Astronaut John Glenn aboard, the Mercury-Atlas rocket is launched from Pad 14 at Cape Canaveral on February 20th, 1962 (Photo Source: NASA)
NASA John Glenn aboard Friendship 7
John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 (Photo Source: NASA)

Titan rockets were developed from an ICBM and were operated from 1959 to 2005. The Titan was the primary rocket used in the 10 manned launches of the Gemini Program from 1965 to 1966 (the goal of this project was to develop space travel techniques in support of the Apollo moon landings. The name arises from the fact that 2 Astronauts were within the spacecraft capsule). Later they were used to launch scientific probes and military/CIA satellites into space.

Gemini-Titan 5 lifts off from Launch Complex 19 on Aug. 21 1965 carrying astronauts Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad
Gemini-Titan 5 lifts off from Launch Complex 19 on August 21st, 1965 carrying astronauts Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad (Photo Source: NASA)

The Saturn 1B rocket was the predecessor to the Saturn V rocket that took man to the moon. It had a long history with NASA and was launched numerous times from 1966 to 1975. Missions included unmanned suborbital and orbital test missions, manned orbital missions and ferrying the first crews to the Skylab space station orbital workshop.

Saturn 1B rocket at Kennedy Space Centre
Saturn 1B rocket at Kennedy Space Centre
The Saturn IB launch vehicle lifting off from Launch Complex 39B at 9:01 a.m. EST. The Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Dr. Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue, were onboard for the third and final mission to the orbiting space station - November 16th, 1973
The Saturn IB launch vehicle lifting off from Launch Complex 39B at 9:01 a.m. EST. The Skylab 4 astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Dr. Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue, were onboard for the third and final mission to the orbiting space station – November 16th, 1973 (Photo Source: NASA)

Sadly on January 27th, 1967 three astronauts died during a Saturn 1B command module fire in a dress rehearsal for a planned Apollo 1 low earth orbital launch on February 21st, 1967 (this mission was to be the first manned launch in the moon landing program). The men lost included the second American into space Gus Grissom along with Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee.

Launch Complex 34 - Cape Canaveral Air Force Station the site of the Apollo 1 disaster NASA
Launch Complex 34 – Cape Canaveral Air Force Station the site of the Apollo 1 disaster
memorial Apollo 1 astronauts
In memory of the lost Apollo 1 Astronauts
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project US mission patch 1975
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project US mission patch (1975)

The final mission using a Saturn 1B was the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project on July 15th, 1975 which docked a NASA spacecraft with a Soviet Soyuz 19 spacecraft (they conducted joint scientific experiments and the mission provided useful docking training that was used later on for the Mir and International Space Stations). This also ended the NASA manned space program until the entry of the Space Shuttle in April 1981.

An essential stop of any visit to the Kennedy Space Centre is the mighty Saturn V multi-staged liquid fuelled rocket. This is the space vehicle that took man to the Moon and back on the Apollo missions between 1967 – 1972  (first flight 1967, first manned flight 1968, six Moon landings 1969 – 1972 by Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17) and also launched the Skylab space station (3 missions between 1973 – 1974). You cant help but be overwhelmed by the size of a Saturn V rocket as you walk around and below it.

NASA Saturn V Kennedy Space Centre
Saturn V rocket
The main rocket engines of the Saturn V NASA
The main rocket engines of the Saturn V
Saturn V Apollo XI Takeoff 1969 (Photo Source: NASA)
Apollo XI Saturn V launch 1969 (Photo Source: NASA)
Apollo 11 June 20th, 1969 - Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Apollo 11 – June 20th, 1969 – Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (Photo Source: NASA)
NASA Moon Landing Map
NASA Moon Landing Map (the green markers indicate were the Apollo missions landed)

Whilst walking around the rocket garden and visiting the other rocket displays you get a real appreciation for how quickly the space program advanced in just a few short years. It is impressive to see all these historic rockets in one place and also to visit the launch sites were space travel history was made. The Astronauts who went into space and also those that were sadly lost aboard these rockets truly had the “right stuff“.

The history of NASA unfolds before you in the Kennedy Space Centre Rocket Garden
The history of NASA unfolds before you in the Kennedy Space Centre Rocket Garden

 

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