For the first time since the early 2000’s a new rocket has been brought into the rocket garden at Kennedy Space Center.
What do Delta, Mercury-Redstone, Mercury-Atlas, Atlas-Agena, Juno I, Juno II, Gemini-Titan II, Saturn IB, and Delta II all have in common? They are proudly displayed at the Rocket Garden in the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex. In what is their most photographed attraction, the Rocket Garden is the crafted skyline of the visitors complex. One can walk amongst giants as they stroll through the rockets, reading about the most notable missions these have carried into space. Often asked if they are real, the answer is yes. They are all real rockets, they were just never used. In fact the 223ft tall Saturn 1B, which lays on it’s side here is the last intact remaining Saturn 1B in history. It tested early hardware of the Apollo program and flew the first Apollo astronauts to space in the Apollo 7 mission. It was last used in 1973 after three successful missions bringing Skylab into orbit.
Before the Saturns we had the Mercury-Atlas. Standing at 95ft tall this model of rocket was most totable used to launch John Glenn and his Friendship 7 spacecraft into orbit making him the first American to complete an entire orbit around the Earth. Close by is the Mercury-Redstone, which launched the first American into space, that of Ham the chimpanzee in 1961, though it was also used four months after Ham’s historic flight for the first American human to reach space. Alan Shepard rode the 83ft tall rocket as he made history and changed space flight forever in this country of ours. Beyond that sits Juno I, and Juno II. Juno I launched America’s first satellite, Explorer I in 1958 where it spent the next four months relaying data back down to scientists at NACA, which would become NASA, also in 1958. Juno II most notably launched the Pioneer IV mission where it was supposed to fly close to the Moon to take snapshots to help future missions landing there. It flew too far away and was used instead to study space objects and radiation.
Up next is the Atlas-Agena rocket. With it’s 105 feet in length, and almost 367,000lbs of thrust it was used for the eight missions of the Ranger Program. These missions collected more than 11,000 photographs of the Lunar surface including the landing site for Apollo 11. Until now the tallest rocket standing vertical in the garden has been the Gemini-Titan II. At 108ft tall with 430,000lbs of thrust the former intercontinental ballistic missile was the perfect choice for Gemini missions in 1956, and 1966.
In Early March of 2021 a Delta II rocket was brought to the Visitors Complex, seen horizontal in sections housed in an employee parking lot before it was pieced together vertically at the Northern end of the Rocket Garden complete with the Delta Blue paint scheme and Shark’s teeth and eyes that were common place on the rockets during their GPS mission. The Delta II was created in the late 1980’s by McDonnell Douglas to fulfill the Air Force’s need of a medium performance launch vehicle, and became one of the most flown rockets of the modern day space program. With more than one-hundred-fifty successful missions it flew numerous GPS missions for the United States Air Force and even brought the Phoenix Mars Lander and Spirit, and Opportunity Mars Rovers to the Red Planet. At 128ft tall and over a million pounds of thrust the Delta II rocket had several variants of the “light” or “heavy” version. Officially retired in 2018, the Delta II flew it’s last mission, that of ICESat-2 from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.