(This is a series of remembrances that will lead up to the final launch of the shuttle now secheduled for September 2010 – I’ve started with Apollo, but will work my way through Skylab and the Shuttle programs)
December 6, 1972 / Kennedy Space Center, Florida …
After picking up my credentials, I had to keep moving that morning.
Around noon the Cape would be sealed, no one on or off. I drove up Merritt Island past throngs of people already waiting along the road to see the launch that night.
The press site was then where it is now –across the street from the Vehicle Assembly Building. adjacent to the basin where the refillable rockets were unloaded from barges after being recovered in the Atlantic Ocean. Off to the northeast these days is the landing strip for the shuttles which may have been there in those days; I just never got there. Today, between the airstrip and the VAB are four hangars, one for each of the shuttles. As the shuttle program ends only three of the five shuttles survive, but we’ll get to that later.
Today, further to the south from the media site, on another road, is the building housing the clean room where payloads for the shuttle have been prepared. In this area there are also a dormitory for the astronauts and other NASA offices and facilities. And further south still is the old launch pad and control room where the Mercury capsules were launched, and where America’s manned space program began.
And, finally, a few hundred yards north of the press site is a road which heads east into a secured area, paralleled by two tracks of rocks. On these rocks atop the crawler, the shuttles have been ferried from the VAB to one of two the launch sites.
At the press site on the afternoon before the Apollo 17 launch, the mood was block party with a rich collection of people, like author Allen Drury and others from around the world. NASA had cast a wide net when accrediting the media. NASA was proud of the program and wanted to share their amazement with the world. The joy was infectous.
Other non-media types such as the VIPS had been banished to inferior seats elsewhere. A Life Magazine photographer discovered to his horror that he was being packed off to the cheap setats. His job that night was to snap a single picture – a certain celebratiy (I forget who) with their mouth gaping at the moment of the launch. That meant this guy would have his back to the launch and see nothing at all, unless he caught it later on TV.
The television networks were there in separate buildings …
Photograph Northerly view, December 6, 1972, from the Press Grandstand of buildings from which ABC, CBS and NBC covered the launches. Photograph © 1972, 1997, The PeterMCrow Trust