CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – As far as historic landmarks go in the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Cape Canaveral area – the Astronaut Beach House, colorful in terms of its history – has been allowed to fade somewhat into the past. With the shuttle program over, two former shuttle astronauts and one still on active duty with NASA sat down and reflected on the crucial role that the building has, and continues to play in human space flight operations.
Robert C. Springer flew into space on space shuttle Discovery on STS-29 and on Atlantis for a Department of Defense mission on STS-38. For him, the beach house provided astronauts with a refuge from the hectic atmosphere that comes with preparing to launch to orbit. Springer retired from NASA and the United States Marine Corps in 1990. Afterward he worked for the Boeing Company as director of quality systems, Integrated Defense Systems. Springer views the beach house as a place for one to catch their breath – before the big day.
“This was one place where you knew that the phones weren’t going to ring; you could just have that quiet down time that I think was very important for you to get your right frame of reference for launch.” Springer said.
Sam T. Durrance is similar to both Springer in that he flew to orbit twice. His first mission was STS-35 aboard the space shuttle Columbia and his second was STS-67 on Endeavour. Durrance was a payload specialist on both of his two flights; this role required him to focus on each mission’s specific payload. Durrance is currently employed by the Florida Institute of Technology located in Melbourne, Florida, where he serves as a professor in the Department of Physics and Space Sciences.
“There was this wonderful tradition that we had, you would come out here with your crew and have dinner. Each crew member would have a glass of wine and the entire crew would then write their names on that wine bottle,” said Durrance. “My mom had found a winery in New York that sold ‘Space Shuttle Wine’ – so somewhere inside is the bottle of this ‘Space Shuttle Wine’ that the whole crew signed.”
Nicole P. Stott started out as a operations engineer at KSC in one of NASA’s Orbiter Processing Facilities. Stott supported human space flight endeavors in numerous roles at KSC before she moved to Johnson Space Center in 1998. She was selected for astronaut training two years later. Stott flew to the International Space Station on STS-128 where she stayed for 91 days before returning to Earth with the crew of STS-129. She would return to the ISS as a member of the STS-133 crew.
Stott came to agency later than Springer and Durrance and therefore her view is somewhat different. For her, the house served to both remind and include her in the area’s rich history.
“It’s a special place, you feel like your part of something here,” said Stott as she looked out from the beach house’s deck toward the ocean. “There is so much history here that while you know that when you’re here, it’s for an event that you’re participating in, but you’re aware that there is a lot that has gone on before you as well.”
The house has survived throughout the years for a number of reasons – not the least of which is what the house meant to the men and women who flew into space from just a few miles away.
The house was constructed in 1962 as part of the Neptune Beach subdivision. When NASA acquired the property, the other houses were destroyed, but the structure that would become the Astronaut Beach House was not razed. Today it is used by NASA as a conference center.
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