When it came to sending people to the Moon, a lot of focus is on the rockets, the math, and the astronauts. However, the incredible machinery that was NASA in the 1960s also required some more down-to-Earth logistics. The space agency had to acquire land on Merrit Island in Florida in the early 1960s to build what would become the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – and on it, there was a beach house that would become an important fixture in the path to the Moon.
The beach house, which became known as Kennedy’s Beach House, was just one of the many structures already present on Merrit Island. They were all bought for $31,500 – but unlike the rest, one was spared from demolition. This became the Astronaut Training and Rehabilitation Building, where crew members could spend time and even stay overnight if they wanted to.
“The Beach House was exceptionally significant in the lives and training of America’s astronauts from 1963 to the present. Throughout its history as a NASA property, the Beach House was reserved for astronauts’ use as a place to rest from their intense training programs and as a refuge before launches,” a report by the Historic American Buildings Survey by the National Park Service says about the facility.
“During the Space Shuttle era, the Beach House hosted special meals and gatherings where the astronauts were able to wish their spouses and families farewell before risking their lives for America’s space program. The Beach House stands alone among KSC’s historic resources, most of which served the technical aspects of launching spacecraft, as a place that served the basic human needs of NASA astronauts.”
The house was damaged substantially by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. When it was reopened in 2018, it had undergone some substantial renovations, installing better facilities such as a new kitchen, bathrooms, and new connectivity as well as turning the upstairs into a more classical conference room where NASA employees can meet to discuss projects.
There is still evidence of its importance to the astronauts thanks to a series of mementos left by the exclusive former visitors. A wine bottle collection is displayed in one of the rooms at the beach house. The place is still being used – so the Artemis crew, the next group that will undertake the trip to the Moon, might also get to enjoy its privacy.
“The Beach House has been used as a conference center since the end of the Shuttle Program. As such, it is open to NASA employees for meetings and other mission-related gatherings. It will likely always be the touchstone by which astronauts judge their progress on the journey to space,” Mary MacLaughlin, Public Affairs Specialist of the NASA Kennedy Space Center, told IFLScience.
Sometimes, the best place to get ready for doing something incredible is a little house by the seashore.
"This is sacred sand out here, it really is. It's where people have made those final goodbyes, and some were final. There's no spouse, no astronaut walks that sand that doesn't know, that there is a possibility that this is forever," NASA astronaut Mike Mullane said in 2010.
"As a spouse, you know you're coming out here to say goodbye, and you don't know if it's the last time," added his wife Donna.