Hidden Gem on the Space Coast: Air Force Space & Missile Museum Cape Canaveral

Florida, Space Exploration, USA
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On display at the museum are different rockets, missiles, and space equipment. All part of the early Space Race between the superpowers and of course also used (unfortunately) to carry weapons.

The museum’s primary objective is to collect, restore and exhibit items of historical significance that relate to the space launch activities at Cape Canaveral. A list of displays can be found on the official website. The site also provides in-depth information about all the exhibited items. It’s a really great collection curated by the volunteer docents of the Air Force Space & Missile Museum.

You may ask why they decided to establish their operations here and not on the west coast or any other part of the United States. The answer is pretty simple. Because of the location and the spin of planet earth, the rockets get an extra “boost” and are flying out in the ocean instead of overpopulated areas.

The museum also shows the role of the Air Force as a major player in America’s space program. The Air Force Station was established here in the early 1950s and operation continues until today. There are still launches going on from the Air Force Station as well as the neighboring Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX and Blue Origin are two private companies joining space exploration and leasing facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Museum ground is located on the grounds of Launch Complex 5 and 6 (LC-5 and LC-6) as well as LC-26.

Some Historical Facts:

  • Early 1950s: Establishing of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
  • Launch Complex 5/6 was the initial launch site for the Project Mercury missions. It was from Pad 5 from which the first two American astronauts (Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom) launched into space in 1961.
  • From Launch Complex 26(A) the first launch of an American satellite, Explorer I, took place here in 1958. LC 26 hosted 36 launches and was deactivated in 1963.
  • In 1966 the site was dedicated as the museum grounds and showed the history of America’s space history and the development of missiles and rockets.

How to visit

Admission to the museum is free but you have to take a special bus tour from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to visit the Museum as it is located on an active military installation. The 2.5-hour bus tour, “Cape Canaveral Early Space Tour“, includes a tour of the museum and stops at several other historical sites along the way. However, the bus tour is only available for a fee from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. No Cape access pass is required. However, if you are one of the lucky people working inside the base, you can visit here whenever you want. You can walk around the grounds and explore the different exhibits. Unfortunately, the Blockhouses and the gift shop are only open during tour hours which run on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The museum has restrooms and picnic tables which helps to enjoy the visit here. Don’t forget to bring your camera as photography here is allowed and encouraged.

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse

Another stop along the route is the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1868 and located on the Cape Canaveral beach. Due to shoreline erosion, the lighthouse got dismantled and relocated 1.5 miles inland in the early 1890s. In July 1894, the light was relit again. In 1939 the U.S. Coast Guard took ownership and in 2000 stewardship was transferred to the 45th Space Wing. This makes it the only lighthouse operated by the U.S. Air Force.

There are dedicated tours just for visiting the lighthouse. If you visit with one of these tours, you will be actually able to get inside the lighthouse tower and a few levels up, which is otherwise locked. During that time period, the gift shop is open as well and volunteers will explain the history of the buildings. Tour buses depart from the Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral and the tour lasts about 3.5 hours and is $49.95 per person. Visit the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation website for tour schedules and more information. The foundation is on its way to reconstruct the living quarters of the lighthouse keepers.

Cape Canaveral Lighthouse

 

Read More: Cape Canaveral Lighthouse

My experience at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum

The visit to the Air Force Space & Missile Museum was a real highlight. So much history here and you walk on the ground of actual launch pads. No replicas! The last hurricane damaged the Mercury Redstone rocket and it lost its top tip piece, which is now reassembled and mounted on top of the rocket. Many of the exhibits have rusty spots all over them because of the aggressive saltwater as the ocean is only a few feet away. The tours and gift shop is operated by volunteers who are very knowledgeable and helpful to bring history even closer to you by speaking from personal experience they had. Volunteers are also working on the grounds to keep this place up. Hopefully, the museum gets enough funding and donations to preserve this historical place for future generations to come.

Photo Gallery

More Photos of the Air Force Space & Missile Museum

Sands Space History Center

Another hidden gem is the Sands Space History Center, named after Major General Harry J. Sands, JR. Admission here is for free as well and it is an extension of the Air Force Space & Missile Museum. Please note that the Cape Canaveral Early Space Tour doesn’t stop here. Only the “Cape Canaveral’s Rise to Space Tour” will stop here. You don’t need to book a tour to visit this museum. The museum building is located just outside of the South gate of the Air Force Station and has parking available close by. Follow the signage to the museum. The actual museum building is located behind the SpaceX building.

SpaceX Building

Sands Space History Center

Inside you find historical information and displays about all the Launch Complexes located on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. You won’t find information about the Launch Pads operated by Kennedy Space Center and located on their grounds. There is a gift shop, restrooms, and picnic area here as well. On your drive to the Sands Space and History Center, you can make a stop and enjoy the view of the cruise ships docked at the port. The Sands Space History Center is a bit hidden. Follow Highway 401 all the way past the cruise port. Keep approaching the main gate of the Air Force Station until you see a rocket on the right-hand side of the street. Make a left on the street right before the rocket and you are there.

Operation Hours of the Sands Space History Center.

Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday Noon – 4 p.m.
Closed all Mondays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years Day and selected launch days. Check the website for updated information.

Photo Gallery Sands Space History Center

More Photos of the Sands Space History Center

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