Space: The Final Frontier in the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

This post is part of an ongoing “road trip” featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at the Dedication of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian (National Archives Identifier 6829642).

The month of July marks the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and it is as good a time as any to look at the properties on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) related to Space Exploration. In the description information for the NRHP properties, one term that is used is “Man in Space” and there are thirty-six properties with that descriptor. An additional sixty-six properties carry the descriptor of “space exploration.”

In July of 1976, the newest museum on the National Mall (NAID 117692363), the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was dedicated by President Gerald Ford, as seen in the picture above, along with Chief Justice Warren Burger, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins, and Smithsonian executive S. Dillon Ripley. The ribbon was cut by a robot after receiving a signal from the Viking spacecraft in outer space.

In addition to the NRHP records, the National Archives maintains custody of hundreds of thousands of records pertaining to space, space exploration, the astronaut program, NASA records, and other fields relating to outer space. The Electronic Records Division recently made available in the National Archives Catalog the SpacePort News (NAID 86037307), the official publication of the Kennedy Space Center and the Space News Roundup (NAID 118571451), published by the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Outer Space: A New Frontier (National Archives Identifier 88693217).

After touring the Air and Space Museum, you can travel to the DC suburbs and visit the Maryland NHL Spacecraft Magnetic Testing Facility (NAID 106775975) for whom one of the buildings is named for Robert H. Goddard. To fully understand the “flight” of Goddard, you can also visit Goddard’s home in New Mexico at the New Mexico MPS Goddard, Robert H., House (NAID 77845979). “The Goddard home is located at the east edge of Roswell on Mescalero Road. The home was built by Miss Effie Olds in 1908 who sold it to the Goddards in the early 1930’s. The Goddards owned the home during the time he was in Roswell doing experimental rocket work . . . In 1935 Harry F. Guggenheim, Charles A. Lindbergh and several others were in Roswell for a test of a rocket. It is reported that Charles Lindbergh slept in one of the rooms of the Goddard home during this visit. Many traces of Dr. Goddard’s work are in and around the 20 acre ranch. The foundation of the laboratory he used is still on the land. The lab was built in 1930 and then moved, enlarged and later converted into a home. Some of the original launching pads, an old bunker site and his lab “dump site” still exist. At these sites were found rocket nose cones, copper and old batteries.”

Air-to-air low angle left view of an F-15 Eagle aircraft in a vertical climb over the White Sands Missile Range. (NAID 6345521).

If you’ve traveled to New Mexico, one should also visit the New Mexico NHL White Sands V-2 Launching Site (NAID 77846981), which “has two important structures: the old Army Blockhouse and the launching crane, also known as the Gantry Crane. The Army Blockhouse was completed in late September 1945 and was primarily used as an observation point and laboratory in the pioneer development of the V-2 rocket in the United States. Walls of the building are 10 feet thick and its pyramidal roof is of solid reinforced concrete 27 feet thick. The blockhouse is rectangular in shape 60 feet by 40 feet with concrete additions on the south and west sides. One observation window is on the east side and two observation windows are on the west side. The observation windows are covered with a high quality ground glass to allow scientists to view missile firings safely and at close range. The entrance door is on the south addition. A radar unit has been attached to the top of the structure. The blockhouse is currently utilized for the repair and maintenance of instrumentation and gauging devices. The Gantry Crane was constructed in November 1946 to launch the V-2 and Viking rockets. The crane is a steel tower 75 feet tall and 25 feet wide. It is equipped with four platform levels for the placement of various types of rockets. The platforms swing toward the center of the crane from the two framed metal stands forming the vertical supports. Block-and-tackle pulleys descend from the top horizontal platform to assist in the placement of rockets. The crane is moved on tracks prior to a rocket launch. Underneath the concrete launch pad is a flame bucket for the rocket exhaust and a water spillway. The launch pad is concrete and is 365 feet by 372 feet. After the completion of the V-2 program the Gantry Crane was modified to support testing of the Army’s Redstone Missile. The Gantry Crane has been restored by the Army to its original V-2 configuration. At the present time a Viking rocket is displayed for launching in the Gantry Crane.”

Position Description for Mercury Astronaut (National Archives Identifier 6734367).

Of course, no tour of space related sites would be complete without a tour of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida or the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Land Acquisition for Cape Canaveral, Florida (National Archives Identifier 7438581).

The Multiple Property Submission of the John F. Kennedy Space Center (National Archives Identifier 77840984) comprises more than 300 structures alongside the Atlantic Ocean in Florida. “In 1973, Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) of John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as a Site . . . The NRHP Site encompasses the VAB [Vehicle Assembly Building] area, both Launch Pads, and the connecting Crawlerway . . . Launch Complex 39 area was the first NASA site chosen for historic recognition and honors the Apollo lunar landing program.”

The Florida Launch Control Center [LCC] (National Archives Identifier 77840974) “is a reinforced concrete building on a mat foundation. It is 385 feet long by 166 feet wide by 76 feet high, with a total of 213,250 square feet of floor space. The building was designed to control the prelaunch and launch operations of the Saturn V and Saturn IB vehicles in the Apollo program. It has since been modified and refurnished to support Space Shuttle launches and is still in use” today.  “The LCC, constructed in 1965, was designed in the International Style which started with architects Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier in Europe in the late 1920s. The style gained popularity in the 1930s, which tapered off in the late 1940s. By the late 1960s and early 1970s it again gained favor for its sleek, modern lines.”

Also located on the vast Kennedy Space Center complex is Florida MPS Launch Complex 39 (National Archives Identifier 77840958), which is the “location where man’s first voyage from Earth to another celestial body began at 9:32:064 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, July 16, 1969.”

The Vehicle Assembly Building [VAB] (both the High Bay and Low Bay) (National Archives Identifier 77840980) “is one of the world’s largest buildings by volume and was considered the largest when it was built in 1966. It encloses 129,482,000 feet of space and covers 8 acres. The exterior boasts of an American flag and Bicentennial Emblem, which was added in 1976. The flag is 209 x 110 ft. The building is designed to withstand winds up to 125 miles per hour. A Utility Annex, extending from the west side of the building, was constructed in 1966 to support the functions of the VAB.”

A view of the 363-foot high Saturn V launch vehicle that will carry Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders into space. The launch vehicle is being moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad A, Complex 39. Apollo 8, scheduled for launch in December, will be the first manned Saturn V flight. (National Archives Identifier 6377055).

Heading off to Texas, stop in at the Texas NHL Apollo Mission Control Center (NAID 40970938) in Houston, which is in “Building 30 at the Lyndon B. Johnson Manned Space Flight Center . . . The three-story structure consists of a mission operations wing (MOW), operations support wing (OSW), and an interconnecting lobby wing. The MOW contains systems and equipment required to support the mission control function. The OSW contains offices, laboratory, and technical support areas for the flight operations directorate. The lobby wing provides additional office space and dormitory facilities utilized by flight controllers during space flights of extended duration. The mission control center is supported by an emergency power building that houses standby electrical power and air-conditioning systems in the event that primary sources fail.”

Photograph of a Saturn IB Launch Vehicle Being Transported to Complex 34 (National Archives Identifier 17409717).

If the Saturn 5 Space Vehicle [Alabama SP Saturn V Space Vehicle (National Archives Identifier 77836796)] is more your type of ride, head off to Huntsville, Alabama to tour “Rocket Park of the Alabama Space and Rocket Center and consists of three tank-type propellant stages and payload. The vehicle is exhibited horizontally, one stage on allow boy type trailer, others on cradles.”  “The design, development and manufacture of the Saturns was the responsibility of the NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville, Alabama, which at the time, was under the leadership of Dr. Werhner von Braun. Dr. von Braun headed a nation-wide team drawn from industry, government, and the educational community which provided the expertise to produce the Saturn.”

“The decision to develop the Saturn V was officially announced on January 10, 1962. It was the first large vehicle in the U.S. space program to be conceived and developed for a specific purpose – the lunar landing. NASA formally assigned the task of developing the Saturn V to the Marshall Space Flight Center on January 25, 1962. Launch responsibility was committed to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.”

Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway – Apollo Saturn V Rocket (National Archives Identifier 7719505).

We can end our space travel trip in California, where we can visit the California NHL Twenty-Five Foot Space Simulator (NAID 123857948) in Pasadena, California, “located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)”, which was “built In 1961 to provide high-quality space simulation for testing spacecraft under conditions of extreme cold, high vacuum, and intense, highly uniform collimated solar radiation.” A “simulated space environment can be established in about 75 minutes. Test conditions can be terminated and access provided to the test item in about 2½ hours.”

You can then travel over to see the USS Hornet (NAID 123857879), where President Nixon visited with the Apollo 11 Astronauts upon their return home from the successful moon landing in 1969. “The Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CVS-12), built to replace the earlier Yorktown-class carrier of the same name (CV-8) that had been lost at the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 27, 1942, is . . . the subject of a preservation effort by a local group, the USS Hornet Historical Museum Association.”

President Richard Nixon Greeting the Apollo 11 Astronauts on the USS Hornet (National Archives Identifier 17409727).

“Hornet was an early participant in the [space] program when she recovered an unmanned Apollo capsule that splashed down in the Pacific on August 29, 1966.” The Apollo 11 astronauts “reentered the earth’s atmosphere and splashed down into the Pacific on July 24, 1969. As the parachutes slowed the capsule’s descent, helicopters from Hornet, which had been designated the recovery carrier, converged on the landing site. When the capsule hit the water. Navy divers dropped into the sea and assisted the three astronauts as they exited. Lifted back to Hornet, the astronauts, wearing containment suits because of the possibility of introducing alien bacteria, stepped from the helicopter, waved, and entered quarantine. President Richard M. Nixon, aboard the carrier, welcomed the astronauts back to earth. “Hornet plus three” then steamed for home.”

“Live Long and Prosper” and enjoy this tour of space-related sites in the NRHP records and more broadly the vast reaches of space records in the custody of the National Archives!

Click on any of the hyperlinked National Archives ID numbers above to open the fully digitized records in the National Archives Catalog. The NRHP files include additional documents, photographs, drawings, and maps.