Travel – Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indy 500 logo

If you have read any of the previous Travel posts on my blog, you know that our family loves weekend car trips and when we moved to Indiana several years ago we had a list of things to see and do in our new home state.  The famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway was on that list and we decided to plan a visit.  In this post I will discuss the history of the Indianapolis 500 car race and what to see if you plan a visit to the Hall of Fall Museum that is on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Indianapolis 500 is an annual car race which takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana and it is held during Memorial Day weekend, normally the last weekend in May.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909, the 2.5 mile oval track and is run with 200 laps counterclockwise around the track for a total distance of 500 miles.  After several fatal accidents were caused by defects in the gravel and tar racetrack, improvements were soon made during that first year to allow for a better and move even surface for the car races and 3.2 million bricks were used to repave the racetrack (which is why the track was originally known as the Brickyard) and a concrete wall as added around the track for the safety of the race car drivers and the spectators.

1909 first Indy 500 race 1    1909 first Indy 500 race

1909 first winner of the Indy 500 - Ray Harroun    1909 first winner of the Indy 500 - Ray Harroun 1

The first Indianapolis 500 race was held on May 30, 1911 with 80,000 spectators in attendance and a substantial prize of $25,000 was won by Ray Harroun who drove a Marmon Model Wasp racer that was outfitted with his new invention, a rear view mirror.  This was a very controversial win and Harroun was considered a safety hazard on the track because at the time drivers rode with their mechanics in the car to check the car’s oil pressure and other car functions but most importantly they were there to constantly let the driver know about the position of the other cars on the track.  In 1912 a riding mechanic was made a race requirement, this was eventually eliminated as car safety standards improved.  By 1935, hard crash helmets were made mandatory for the race and a yellow light system was devised to caution drivers to slow down in the case of debris on the track or stopped cars or accidents.

After World War II, the Speedway was in a severe state of disrepair and in danger of possibly being sold for a housing development.  The Speedway was purchased by Tony Hulman, an Indiana businessman, in November 1945 for a reported $750,000.  After major repairs and renovations were made to the racing facility the track opened in time for the 1946 race.

DSC05456The Indianapolis 500 race continued to draw increasing larger crowds over the following years with the race events extending not only to race day but a weekend long festival that included entertainment.  For safety reasons, the race field was now limited to only 33 cars.  The cars speeds increased dramatically as the race cars were designed to be were lower to the ground and more streamlined instead of the larger and heavier roadsters used in the Speedway’s earlier races.  By 1961, the remaining brick of the old track was paved over with asphalt except a three foot wide section at the start/finish line to preserve a small part of the history of the racetrack.  In 1987, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Hall of Fame Museum

Located on at the grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the Hall of Fame Museum featuring exhibits explaining the automotive history of the racetrack and filled with numerous cars used in the Indianapolis 500 race.  The original Hall of Fame Museum was built in 1956 where the current Speedway Administration Building is located but the museum’s collection of race memorabilia and vintage cars soon became too large and another facility was required.

A larger Hall of Fame Museum was built and opened in 1976.  The building was 96,000 square feet which had 30,000 square feet of museum display space that includes a gift shop. Be sure to check out the 20 minute film which includes rare historic footage of the Indianapolis 500 race shown in the Tony Hulman Theater.  Located adjacent to the museum are a small snack shop and nearby is the departure point for the bus tours of the 2.5 mile oval racetrack.

Listed below are some of the interesting items which are displayed at the museum –

  • Over 75 vehicles are on display including the Marmon “Wasp” which was used by Ray Harroun to win the first Indianapolis 500 race in 1911.
  • Several cars driven by A.J. Foyt Jr. including his 1977 car used to win his fourth Indianapolis 500 record-setting win.
  • The Duesenberg #12 Murphy Special, the only car used to win both the French Grand Prix at Le Mans in 1921 and the Indianapolis 500 in 1922.
  • The #8 Cummins Diesel Special used by Dale Evans in 1931, the only car to complete the Indianapolis 500 race without a pit stop.
  • The Borg-Warner Trophy, which honors the winner of each of the Indianapolis 500 race.

DSC05336    Indy 500 trophy

For more information regarding price and hours for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum please see their website,

Indianapolis 500 information and trivia

  • The Indianapolis Speedway is an oval 2.5 mile racetrack.  The basic layout of the track has changed little since the Speedway opened in 1909.  The track has four straight sections, the front and back longer straights are 5/8th of a mile each and the shorter straights between Turns I & 2 and Turns 3 & 4 are an 1/8th of a mile each.  Each of the four turns on the oval track are 1/4th of mile long and built at a 9 degree angle.
  • After winning the 1936 race, Louis Meyer celebrated his win on Victory Lane by drinking some buttermilk.  The executive of the Milk Foundation was so happy see it that he took advantage of the moment and a photograph appeared in the sports section of the newspaper the next day.  He thought it was such a great way to advertise that, except for the period between 1947-55, the tradition of the winner of the Indianapolis 500 race drinking milk in celebration has continued ever since then.
  • Three drivers have the Indianapolis 200 races four times.  They are: A.J. Foyt in 1961, 1964, 1977.  Al Unser in 1970, 1971, 1987.  Rick Mears in 1979, 1988 1991.
  • Five drivers have won the Indianapolis 500 race two consecutive times.  They are: Wilbur Shaw in 1939 & 40, Mauri Rose in 1947 & 48, Bill Bukovich in 1953 & 54, Al Unser in 1970 & 71, Helio Castroneves in 2001 & 02.
  • The youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500 is Troy Ruttman who was 22 years old when he won on May 30, 1952.  The oldest winner is Al Unser who was 47 years old when he won on May 24, 1987.
  • In the decades following the first Indianapolis 500, female participation was discouraged and essentially banned from competition and even female reporters were not allowed into the pit area until 1971.  The female driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 race was Janet Guthrie in 1977.  Sarah Fisher has the distinction of competing eight times.  Danica Patrick led the 2005 race for 19 laps and again in 2011 for 10 laps.  In 2009, Danica finished the race in third place, the best finish for a woman.
  • Racecar drivers can be very superstitious, it is considered bad luck to enter and exit from the same side of the car and green cars are also considered bad luck.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Birthday

Arthur Conan DoyleHello, it’s Jeff again.  I’m here to tell you something about the author of Sherlock Holmes.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born May 22, 1859 to Mary and Charles Doyle. His full name was Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle.   The Doyles were a prosperous family, but Arthur’s father was an alcoholic and never amounted to much and his mother was the big influence in Doyle’s life and gave him a passion for story telling.

When Arthur was nine wealthy relatives offered to pay for his education and in 1868 he was sent to Jesuit boarding school in England.  He hated the harsh punishment and bulling that he suffered in school.  While at school, he started writing his mother regularly, a habit he kept up until her death.   At school he found he had inherited his mother’s gift for storytelling and frequently told stories to the younger students.  In addition to his storytelling he also excelled in sports, particularly Cricket.

The Doyle family was in the art business, but Arthur decided he wanted to be a physician and in 1876 he went to the University of Edinburgh Medical School.  While he was a student at the university he met many soon to be famous authors including James Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson.  He also met Dr. Joseph Bell who was “a master at observation, logic, deduction, and diagnosis”.  During this time he also starting writing short stories.  His first published work was “The Mystery of the Sasassa Valley” in 1879.   Before he graduated he took a job as a ship surgeon on the whaler called the Hope.  He greatly enjoyed that voyage and after he graduated he signed on as medical officer on the steamer Mayumba bound for Africa.  He detested Africa and resigned as soon as the ship returned to England.

Doyle FamilyArthur married his first wife, Mary Louise, in 1885 and they had two children, Mary Louise and Arthur Alleyne Kingsley.  After the death of his first wife from tuberculosis in 1906, he married Jean Elizabeth Leckie and had three additional children:  Denis Percy Stewart, Adrian Malcom and Jean Lena Annette.

After graduating from medical school Arthur became a partner in a medical practice in Plymouth, but the partnership was difficult and extremely challenging and he soon set up his own practice in Southsea.  While waiting for his clientele to build he wrote more stories.  Initially he struggled to find someone to publish his works, but in 1886 he was able to publish “A Study in Scarlet” which introduced the world to his most memorable characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Sherlock Holmes was patterned after his former professor, Dr. Bell.  At the time, what we call forensic science was just starting to develop and the general public was amazed at Sherlock’s abilities and scientific process in solving crimes and Sherlock quickly became a world celebrity.

As the Sherlock Holmes stories became popular and Author’s medical practice started to take off he had trouble balancing being both a good doctor and satisfying his passion for writing.  After a near death experience with influenza in 1891 he decided to give up his medical practice and focus on his writing full time.

Interestingly enough, Arthur considered the Sherlock Holmes stories “commercial” and felt they took too much time away from what he liked to write.  This is why in the story “The Final Problem” he killed off the character of Sherlock.  The public outcry over the death of Sherlock Holmes was so great that he eventually brought him back in 1901 in a flashback story called “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and finally permanently in 1903 in “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”.  In 1902 King Edward VII knighted Arthur, for the contribution of his book “The Great Boor War”, but rumor has it that the King wanted to persuade Doyle to write more Sherlock Holmes stories.  In the end he wrote 56 Sherlock Holmes stories and plays.  Many movies and television series have been made about Holmes over the years, including the popular BBC series “Sherlock” staring Benedict Cumberbatch and the American television show “Elementary” with Lucy Lu.


Arthur was a staunch supporter of the criminal justice system and he personally investigated a number of cases which exonerated the accused and eventually led to the set up of the Court of Criminal Appeal in England which was formed in 1907.  He also ran unsuccessfully for a house seat in Central Edinburgh.


Probably the most controversial aspect of Arthur was his belief in Spiritualism the started after the death of his wife, son and several other close relatives.  He debated Joseph McCab on the claims of spiritualism at Queen’s Hall in London.  He was friends with Harry Houdini until he tried to convince Arthur that his “powers” were only tricks and illusions and became an opponent of Spiritualism.

Over the last year I have written posts for this bog about several different authors that lived at the same time and I didn’t know much about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle other the fact that he had written some of my favorite books.  After researching his life he appears to have been a truly good person who cared about his family and society in general. He died on July 7, 1930 surrounded by his family.   If you are looking for a more in depth biography, please check out the following website:

Decor – Memorabilia Displays

Shadowboxes are a great way to display memorabilia such as travel souvenirs, vintage items, or personal heirlooms.  By having these items protected under glass you and your family, along with the visitors to your home, can enjoy looking at them while keeping these items protected from any damage.   Over the years I have made several shadowboxes that are displayed throughout our home and in this post I will show these examples.

Travel souvenirs

As I mentioned previously in a July 2013 Décor Post, Displaying Travel Souvenirs, in the library of our home nestled among the books are several items that we have collected over the years during our travels across the United States and other distant places such as Europe and Asia.  I have found that shadowboxes are an excellent way to display these travel souvenirs.  One example, shown below, is the shark weapon that we purchased on a visit to the Polynesian Culture Center in Hawaii.  This beautifully crafted piece is displayed in a shadowbox to be admired but the real purpose for having it behind glass is that the sharp edges of the shark teeth are enclosed to prevent anyone from handling this dangerous weapon.  Several other smaller shadowboxes are also displayed on the bookshelves and the examples are shown below and they are: a framed piece of Edelweiss purchased in a small shop near Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, a small piece of brick from the home of Abraham Lincoln located in Springfield, IL and a piece of cable that we purchased at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum.

Hawaiian travel souvenirs
Germany travel souvenir    Springfield travel souvenir

San Fransico travel souvenir

Discussed in the May 2013 Décor Post, Framing Small Items, during our family road trips, I always purchase pins as inexpensive souvenirs and over the years I have collected hundreds.  These pins, shown below, are displayed in special walnut cases with black liners.  Also shown below are additional cases, one case displays my collection of Hard Rock Café guitar pins purchased during over visits to the restaurants throughout our travels and in another case is a very small part of my collection of over two hundred Disney pins.

Pin collection 2  Pin collection 1
Pin collection 4    Pin collection 3

Another memorabilia display featuring travel souvenirs can be found in our basement displayed above my Disney bookshelves.  It is a vintage Disneyland pendant in a black shadowbox and is shown in the photo below.    As I mentioned previously in the April 2013 Decor Post, Disney Memorabilia Collection, I go into details about my Disney obsession and the items that I have collected over the years.

Disneyland pendant shadowbox

So, instead of storing your travel souvenirs in boxes which are hidden away from view, try displaying them in shadowboxes or special display cases which allow you to look at these items while the items are protected from dust or damage and you will be able enjoy the memories of your travels!

Vintage items

As many of you know from reading previous posts, I enjoy browsing and shopping in antique stores and on EBay.  Over the years I have purchased many vintage items and scattered around our home are several small and unusual framed items which add personality and interest to our home decorations.  In the May 2013 Décor Post, Framing Small Items, I featured a shadowbox that is on display in my home office that contains commemorative medals of the British Kings and Queens that I had purchased inexpensively on EBay.  The pins, shown below, range from Queen Victoria to the present Queen Elizabeth II and it is a wonderful way to have a little piece of interesting history.

Framed collectible 3

In another Décor Post, Framed Jewelry, posted previously in February 2014 features several vintage jewelry items that I also purchased while shopping in antique stores and on EBay.  These vintage jewelry pieces look wonderful displayed in small frames and add an elegant touch to our home décor.  Shown below is a beautiful crystal fur clip which is attached to a piece of white velvet and displayed in a small gold frame.

Framed Fur clip

Recently, one of my Spring cleaning projects was organizing the closet in our master bedroom.  The room is a rather large walk-in closet with a counter positioned in the center and has a wonderful and convenient chute to the laundry room downstairs.  The room also has useful built-in shelving where I have displayed two shadowboxes, which are shown below.  One shadowbox has a set of antique lace collars and cuffs while the other one has a pair of antique men’s spats.  Using these antique items displayed in the closet seemed perfect and I think they look great!

Vintage women's lace collar and cuffs    Vintage men's spats

So, next time you are shopping in antique stores or on EBay think about how you can decorate with vintage items displayed in shadowboxes in your home.

Personal heirlooms

Showcasing family memorabilia or heirlooms is a wonderful way to add a personal touch to any home.  In a May 2013 Décor Post, Framing Small Items, I featured quite a unique item displayed in a shadowbox.  The items, shown in the photo below, are a personal letter and a religious medal from Pope John Paul II and included in the shadowbox is a photo taken on the day of our daughter’s baptism. This is an example of how these very personal items can be displayed to commemorate a blessed event.  For more information about this shadowbox and to read the story of how we came to receive these special items, please click on the link above. 

Framed collectible 1a    Childhood beach shovel

The next item of family memorabilia is an old rusty beach shovel shadowbox display, shown in the photo above.  When I was a child living in California, our family used to enjoy the occasional day at the beach.  This old metal beach shovel, found in my parent’s garage.  The trick to making this type of shadowbox is finding one that has enough depth to accommodate the shovel and then using a piece of sandpaper for the background of the shadowbox because it would look like the sand on the beach, finally the shovel was attached to the paper with hot glue.  Seeing the beach shovel shadowbox hanging in our downstairs bathroom brings back wonderful memories of Paradise Cove.

The next two examples of family memorabilia are framed items of clothing which are shown below.  The first is one of our daughter’s baby outfits and I also included a baby photo of her in a small gold frame, these items are simply displayed in a white shadowbox.  The second shadowbox which contains our daughter’s 5th grade graduation t-shirt and it is hung in her bedroom, she likes looking at the names and remembering her classmates.

Cassie shadowbox 2    Cassie shadowbox 1

The final example of a family memorabilia shadowbox was used a few years ago when my husband’s Grandmother passed away.  She was an artist and for her funeral/memorial services and we displayed several of her paintings and other pieces of artwork and her art ribbons won at local fairs and competitions was arranged in the shadowbox and also put on display at the funeral home.  Sadly, if you are ever put in the position of making funeral arrangements or planning a funeral service, it is always a thoughtful idea to add some items that were of personal interest to the deceased.  When these items are displayed among photos of the deceased, along with the floral arrangements, it helps to “tell the story” of the person’s life.

Grandma Hodge's art ribbons

So, memorabilia shadowboxes can be used to decorate and add personality to the home.  These items can be travel souvenirs, vintage pieces and family heirlooms. For another idea using shadowboxes, please be sure to check out next week’s Craft Post, Childhood Shadowboxes, for an easy and simple craft project to use as a display in your home.

J.M. Barrie’s Birthday

J.M. BarrieToday’s post is in honor of J.M. Barrie (born: May 9, 1860  died: June 19, 1937) who was the famous author of the classic children’s story “Peter Pan”.  Growing up as a child my first exposure to the story was the 1953 animated Disney version of “Peter Pan” and over the years I have seen several productions of the wonderfully staged “Peter Pan” play.    I enjoy the story about Peter, the boy that never grew up, and his band of Lost Boys that lived far away in Neverland and I’m sure everyone also remembers the other wonderful characters, such as the sinister Captain Hook and his comical sidekick Smee, sweet Wendy Darling and her two brothers and of course the magical pixie named Tinkerbelle.

James Matthew Barrie was born in Kirriemuir, Angus in Scotland.  His father, David, was a local weaver and his mother, Margaret Ogilvy, had a large family of ten children.  Tragedy was to strike the family when Barrie’s brother, David, died in an ice skating accident just before his 14th birthday.  Barrie’s mother was devastated by the loss of her son but strangely she found comfort in the fact, that in her memories, David would remain a young boy forever and that he would never to grow up and leave her.

As a child, Barrie went to several different local schools and at the age of 14 he was sent away to the Dumfries Academy where his older brother and sister, Alexander and Mary Ann, were teachers.  During Barrie’s childhood he had developed a love of reading and he read everything from classic literature, such as “Robinson Crusoe”, to the inexpensive adventure stories of the time known as “penny dreadfuls”.  While Barrie was away at school, he enjoyed spending time with the other boys and one of their favorite games was playing swash-buckling pirates.

While in school, Barrie formed a drama club with his fellow students and he was very good at storytelling and even wrote several of the plays for them to perform.  As he grew older, Barrie knew he wanted have a career as a writer.  His family was unhappy with this decision and pressured Barrie to continue his education at university.  A compromise was reached and Barrie would enroll at the University of Edinburgh and he would study literature.  He went on to graduate and received his M.A. degree in 1882.

While at university, Barrie found work writing drama reviews for the Edinburgh Evening Courant and after graduating he became a journalist for the Nottingham Journal.  He worked there for almost two years and then returned to Kirriemuir to concentrate on writing original stories which were inspired by his mother’s childhood and set in a fictional town of Thrums, the stories also depicted the Auld Lichts, which was a strict religious sect that Barrie’s grandfather had belonged to.  Barrie submitted the stories to a London newspaper and they were published by the St. James Gazette.  Eventually these stories served as the basis for Barrie’s first novels, “Auld Licht Idylls” (1888) and “A Window in Thrums” (1890).  The stories proved to be popular, sold reasonably well and helped to established Barrie as a successful writer.

1904 newpaper Advertisment for the first Peter Pan playBarrie also wrote theatrical plays, the first few turned out to be critical failures but he continued to write.  His third play featured a young actress named Mary Ansell and Barrie quickly fell in love, proposed and they were married on July 9 1894.  Barrie bought Mary a Saint Bernard puppy and he wrote this furry character into one of his novels, “The Little White Bird”, later known as “Adventures in Kensington Gardens”.  “The Little White Bird” was published in 1902 and featured the memorable character of Peter Pan.  Eventually, this popular novel became such a critical and financial success for Barrie that it soon lead to the theatrical stage production of “Peter Pan” which premiered on December 27, 1904.

Unfortunately, during this time the Barrie’s marriage had proven to be an unhappy one and Mary had an affair.  To avoid the scandal of a divorce, Barrie offered her a legal separation if she agreed to sever ties with the other man.  Mary refused and Barrie sued for a divorce on the grounds of infidelity and it was granted in October 1909.

1911 Peter and Wendy bookBarrie found solace in his work and in 1911 he wrote another novel entitled “Peter and Wendy” that told the story of the “forever young” boy, the adventurous Peter, who meets Wendy Darling and her brothers.  Peter teaches the trio how to fly across the night sky of London to the island of Neverland where he lives with his band of Lost Boys, some of the other characters in the story include the fairy TinkerBelle and the pirate Captain Hook.

Barrie had created the story of Peter Pan for the sons of his close personal friend Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, who was a recent widow.  The name of the character of Peter Pan came from Peter for one of Llerelyn Davies’ sons and Pan was for the mischievous Greek God of the woodlands.  It has been said that the character of Peter Pan was also inspired by Barrie’s brother David who had died when he was a child and remained forever a young boy in the memory of his devastated mother.  Sadly, Mrs. Llewelyn Davies herself died a few years after meeting Barrie; he was named as one of the guardians of her boys and he unofficially adopted them.  Deeply affected by these personal events and his deep affection for children that he would never be able to have himself, in 1929 Barrie gave the copyright of the Peter Pan book and play to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, which is a children’s hospital located in London.

Throughout his life Barrie had many famous literary friends and acquaintances, such as H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling and he corresponded from several years with Robert Louis Stevenson although they never meet because Stevenson was living in Samoa at the time.  Barrie was also friends with the Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott; he was the godfather to Scott’s son, Peter.  In his final hours before he died during his South Pole expedition, Scott wrote several letters to his family and relatives, and Barrie considered his letter from Scott one of his most cherished personal mementos and carried it with him for the rest of his life.  One of Barrie also met and told stories to the young daughters of the Duke of York, who was the future King George VI and the father of Princess Margaret and the present Queen Elizabeth II.

Barrie died of pneumonia on June 19,1937 and is buried at Kirriemuir next to his parents and two of his siblings.  The birthplace and childhood home is now a museum maintained by the National Trust of Scotland.

Honors and awards

Over the years Barrie received many awards and honors.  In 1913 he was made a baronet by King George V and in 1922 he was made a member of the Order of Merit.  In 1919 he was elected Rector of the University of St Andrews for a three year term and several years later Barrie served as Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh from 1930 to 1937.

Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, LondonA lasting memorial to the character of Peter Pan stands in an area of London’s Kensington Gardens located near Hyde Park.  At the time, the character of Peter had appeared in his book, “The Little White Bird”, Barrie was living in London and used the location as the setting for his story.  He wrote that Peter flies out of his nursery, out into the city and he lands in the Long Water area.  Magically overnight and with no advanced publicity, a statue of Peter Pan appeared on the same exact spot on May 1, 1912.  Barrie had commissioned Sir George Frampton to create the bronze statue and he worked on it in secret until it suddenly appeared as a surprise for the children of London.  The almost 10 foot high statue features Peter standing at the top of a tree trunk with several fairies, squirrels, rabbits and mice gathered around.

Of course, throughout the years, the story of Peter Pan and the other wonderful characters of the enchanted Neverland have held the imagination of the public since the book and the first theatrical production was performed.  There have been several versions of the play performed around the world, one of the most famous actresses to play Peter was Mary Martin on Broadway.  Probably the version that most children have seen is the 1953 Walt Disney animated film which features a magical adaption of Barrie’s play.  In 1991, Steven Spielberg produced the movie “Hook” (starring Robin Williams as Peter and Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook) which tells the story of the older grown-up Peter who seems to have forgotten his childhood and his memories of living in Neverland.  Another great movie is the 2004 Warner Bros. film “Finding Neverland” (starring Johnny Depp playing J.M. Barrie and Kate Winslet playing his friend Sylvia Llewelyn Davies) which tells the story of how Barrie came to write the tale of Peter Pan.

Travel – Kennedy Space Center

Kenndy Space Center sign

Hello, it is Jeff again.  Barbara normally writes the travel posts for this blog, but she knows how much I love everything about NASA and the Space program.  You may have figured it out, I’m a space nut!  My dream when I was 10 years old was to be an astronaut and I still love everything about space!  When we went to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2010 we arrived when it opened and hours later we were still there when it closed for the day (I could have stayed even longer!) and my family had to drag me out!!  There is so much to see at the Kennedy Space center that when (not if, when!) we go back I will suggest to my family that we allow at least two days to allow for more exploring of the facility and exhibits!

Before getting into the details of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral today, let’s take a brief look at the history of the site.  The Joint Long Range Proving Ground was established in 1949 after initial testing on Topsail Island in North Carolina had to be halted due to bad weather conditions and increased water traffic.  The first launch at the Cape in Florida was on July 24th, 1950 when the Air Force launched a V-2 rocket.  This launch and many others can be seen here in this government information film “The Cape: 1963”.  There were many major American space exploration “firsts” that happened at the Cape and are mentioned on Wikipedia, including: the first U.S. Earth satellite (1958), first U.S. astronaut (1961), first U.S. astronaut in orbit (1962), first two-man U.S. spacecraft (1965), first U.S. unmanned lunar landing (1966), and first three-man U.S. spacecraft (1968). It was also the launch site for the first spacecraft to ever fly past the other planets in the Solar System (1962–1977), the first spacecraft to orbit Mars(1971) and roam its surface (1996), the first American spacecraft to orbit and land on Venus(1978), the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn (2004), and to orbit Mercury (2011).

You may be wondering … what about the some of the most famous launches, such as the first flight to the Moon and the Space Shuttle?  These events all happened at the Kennedy Space Center.  After President Kennedy announced the ambitious plan to go to the moon, NASA realized that their facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base were inadequate.   Initially they wanted to take over the Air Force base, but they needed more space and NASA began buying 200 square miles of land north of the base on Merritt Island.  At this site they constructed the launch platforms and support buildings that were used for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions and until most recently the Space Shuttle program.

Merritt_IslandOne final question that needs to be addressed is the name.  Is it Cape Canaveral, Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Kennedy Space Center, Patrick Air Force Base or Station No. 1 of the Atlantic Missile Command? The answer is that all of these names are correct!  The confusion lies in Executive Order 11129 issued by President Johnson three days after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.  Not only did he name the Air Force base and the NASA facilities the Kennedy Space Center, but he also had the land renamed as well.  This didn’t go over too well with the citizens of the area who had been calling it Cape Canaveral for a very long time.  To make a long story short, in 1973 the land reverted back to the name of Cape Canaveral and the NASA facilities on Merritt Island would retain the name of the Kennedy Space Center.   The Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) is an installation of the United States Air Force Space Command 45th Space Wing, which is headquartered at nearby Patrick Air Force Base.”  For us space enthusiasts, the place to visit on a trip to Florida is the Kennedy Space Center, particularly the Visitor Complex.

As I said before, there is A LOT to do at the Kennedy Space Center, but it all starts by purchasing an admission ticket.  Admissions for the center can be purchased online at  The types of tickets available are single day as well as multi-day admission tickets, but if you plan on visiting the KSC on additional visits within a one year period I would recommend an annual pass. Travel Note:  The KSC website is little harder to navigate through but I would suggest calling them directly to make your arrangements via phone, 866-737-5235. Many of the KSC tours/experiences admit limited numbers of guests, so make sure to make your reservations early especially during the busy summer months!

Jeff at the Kennedy Space Center Jones Family Kennedy Space Center 2010

I would recommend starting your day at the Kennedy Space Center with one of the bus tours, which is currently included in the admission ticket, more extensive “Up Close” tours are available for an additional fee.  Since the KSC is undergoing changes and adjustments since the ending of the Space Shuttle program, the tours might change and it is advised to see their website for the most current information,  When we visited for the first time in 2010, we went on a tour called “Today and Tomorrow” which is similar to the “Then and Now” tour that is currently available.  The good thing about taking one of the KSC bus tours is that at the end of the tour they stop at the Apollo/Saturn V Center (which is included with an admission ticket) where visitors can see a real Saturn 5, all 363 feet of it!!  Can you tell I am still in awe over our visit?

KSC bus tour 1 KSC bus tour 4
KSC bus tour 2 KSC bus tour 6a
KSC bus tour 5 Space Rock Garden

There are a couple of other experiences at the Kennedy Space Center that I highly recommend.  First consider the “Lunch with an Astronaut” which allows visitors to share a meal and meet someone who has actually been in space.  We haven’t done that yet, but visitors get to hear a lecture presented by an astronaut and afterwards they will spend time with the visitors answering questions.  Second, go see the new Atlantis exhibit!!  (Unfourtunately, the exhibit was opening after our most recent visit to KSC which is my perfect excuse to go back!) Also available is “The Shuttle Launch” experience “ride” which is fabulous but be sure to make time to see all the other exhibits and don’t forget to visit the rocket garden.  If you have a full day to spend at KSC, and if you plan in advance, you can make reservations for the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX).  My daughter and I did this during our most recent KSC visit in 2013, it was so much fun and we got to meet an astronaut, play in the centrifuges and other space training equipment and finally participate in a launch simulation. The ATX is a little expensive, but well worth it!!

ATX  1 ATX  2   ATX - Jeff

So, to finish this post, I’ll leave you with some space facts, trivia and additional links to enjoy:

  • Atlantis traveled 125,935,769 miles in space over the 307 days it was in orbit.
  • President Bill Clinton was the only president to watch a shuttle launch live on site.  He and his wife watched John Glenn’s return to Space on STS-95 on Oct 29, 1998 from the Kennedy Space Center.
  • Wally A. Schirra was the only man to fly in all three of NASA’s ‘Moon Shot’ programs (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo).  Alan Shepard flew in Mercury and Apollo, but not in Gemini. Gus Grissom was involved in all three projects, flying in Mercury and Gemini, but he was killed during a pre-flight simulation in his Apollo 1 capsule, so he never actually flew in the Apollo program.
  • The Sun is about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers, away from the Earth. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, therefore it takes a little over 8 minutes for the Sun’s light to reach the Earth.
  • The Mercury capsules named by the astronauts.  Each astronaut named his capsule and added the numeral 7 to denote the teamwork of the original astronauts.
  • Seats on Virgin Galactic cost $250,000 each.  The full fee is due upon booking.  Here is the booking link: (Maybe if Virgin Galactic’s prices will come down enough before I’m too old to afford it so I can take a ride!!).
  • The Astronomy Picture of the Day has been posting annotated pictures based on space themes since June of 1995.  I have been reading them almost daily since then.
  • You can view images of and help classify galaxies at
  • You can help look for extraterrestrial life at
  • The Kennedy Space Center is run by Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts; the same company that manages the attractions at Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.