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Tours shine light on Cape's 'heart, soul'

Jim Hale, a volunteer with the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, explains rocket launch procedures to a tour group, which included Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, 45th Space wing commander. The museum is one of many stops on the new public tour of CCAFS, offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For details about the public tour program, call 494-5945 or e-mail ccafstours@patrick.af.mil. (Air Force Photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Jim Hale, a volunteer with the Air Force Space and Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, explains rocket launch procedures to a tour group, which included Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, 45th Space wing commander. The museum is one of many stops on the new public tour of CCAFS, offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For details about the public tour program, call 494-5945 or e-mail ccafstours@patrick.af.mil. (Air Force Photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Sonny Witt, Detachment 1, 45th Mission Support Group director of operations, at left, gives a tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to a group of visitors, including Lisa Wilson, wife of 45th Space Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, at right, at the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, one of several stops on the public tour of Cape Canaveral
AFS, offered Wednesdays and Thursdays. For tour details, call 321-494-5945 or email ccafstours@patrick.af.mil. (Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Sonny Witt, Detachment 1, 45th Mission Support Group director of operations, at left, gives a tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to a group of visitors, including Lisa Wilson, wife of 45th Space Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, at right, at the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, one of several stops on the public tour of Cape Canaveral AFS, offered Wednesdays and Thursdays. For tour details, call 321-494-5945 or email ccafstours@patrick.af.mil. (Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Coast Guard Rear Admiral (Ret.) Bob Merrilees,
Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation
president, honors Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson,
45th Space Wing Commander, for his support
of the landmark lighthouse. The foundation’s
farewell to General Wilson coincided with an
Aug. 18 public tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, now offered by the wing free of charge
twice per week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
For tour details, call 494-5945 or email
ccafstours@patrick.af.mil. (Courtesy photo/Ginny Davis, Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation)

Coast Guard Rear Admiral (Ret.) Bob Merrilees, Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation president, honors Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, 45th Space Wing Commander, for his support of the landmark lighthouse. The foundation’s farewell to General Wilson coincided with an Aug. 18 public tour of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, now offered by the wing free of charge twice per week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For tour details, call 494-5945 or email ccafstours@patrick.af.mil. (Courtesy photo/Ginny Davis, Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation)

Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, 45th Space Wing commander, credited with making tours of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station more accessible to the public, leaves the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse during a tour. The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is the only fully operational lighthouse owned by the U.S. Air Force and is one of several stops on the tour, which also includes historical and operational space launch complexes. (Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, 45th Space Wing commander, credited with making tours of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station more accessible to the public, leaves the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse during a tour. The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is the only fully operational lighthouse owned by the U.S. Air Force and is one of several stops on the tour, which also includes historical and operational space launch complexes. (Air Force photo/Matthew Jurgens)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- It was business as usual this week for about 3,000 employees working at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

But for about a dozen people getting a free tour of the property - including a closeup view of a Delta II rocket on Launch Complex 17B, a climb to the fourth floor of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse and visits to launch control rooms and blockhouses - their time on the base was special.

In an effort to connect with the many space fans who live in and visit Brevard County, Patrick Air Force Base's 45th Space Wing is now offering free tours of the Air Force station twice a week.

"This is new territory," said Kristen Klein- Nicholl, who snapped pictures of the old launch pad where Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a fire in the Command Module during an Apollo I preflight test on Jan. 27, 1967.

Mrs. Klein-Nicholl lives at Patrick Air Force Base with her husband Matthew Nicholl, who is serving in the Coast Guard.

"I think it should be obligatory for everybody who lives here to embrace the history. It's the heart and soul of this place."

The three-hour public tours, which for several years had been run once a month, are now being conducted on Wednesdays and Thursdays. A third day could be added if the demand increases.

Brig. Gen. Ed Wilson, 45th Space Wing commander, is credited by many for making the tours more accessible. He said there has always been interest from the public in learning about the space program and the tours are one way of advancing that.

"We took a look at how we could show and tell the history of the Cape," he said after a ceremony at the lighthouse Aug. 18. The Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation honored General Wilson for his support of the landmark, ironically coinciding with the tour group's stop there.

The tour, in an air-conditioned bus, starts at the Air Force Space and Missile History Center, just outside the south gate at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and allows time for exploring different stops along the way.

General Wilson said cost to the Air Force is minimal, as the tours use existing buses and are guided by two civilian employees who also manage other duties at the base.

In addition, volunteers work the various stops.

"We're not trying to compete, but we're trying to show what's out here," General Wilson said, referencing another tour of the station. "We complement each other."

For a fee, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers "Then and Now" historic tours to the Cape. Visitors pay $21 for the tour on top of $45.48 adult admission to KSC and visit the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs' launch sites, the Air Force Space and Missile Museum and the Apollo/Saturn V center on KSC property.

Andrea Farmer, spokeswoman for KSC visitor complex, said she, too, believes that the different tours complement each other. Both have some overlapping stops and seek to tell the story of space exploration.

"I think our goals are similar," Ms. Farmer said. "We're looking at different audiences, but telling a similar story."

Ira Isaacs, a financial strategist who lives part time on Merritt Island, said after the tour tthat he hopes to volunteer at the Space and Missile Museum after retiring.

"It really humanizes a lot of the history, the whole process and system," he said, adding that when he thinks about the Air Force now, "I'll think of the tour."

Air Force employees and tour guides Jill McCaffrey and Patrick Murphy, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs, captured the attention of those on the tour Aug. 18 as they explained some of the Cape's history and discussed the environment and the importance of upcoming launches.

The lighthouse was the main attraction for Sam Ortenzio, a 62-year-old cab driver from Harrisburg, Pa.

"This was the ultimate to-do," he said. "I did a lot of research. This was my interest here."

Mr. Ortenzio said he also wanted to get a flavor of the space program.

"I definitely wanted the history, too," he said.

James White of Brick, N.J., said his research paid off when he found out about the tour. He said he and his son, James White III, had already visited KSC and had seen a shuttle launch, but wanted to learn more about the space program and Cape Canaveral.

"I'm glad they finally put this together, and it fell right during the week we're here," he said  as he looked over displays at the Space and Missile Museum. "I actually dreamt about being here, where I am right now."

Editor's note: For details about the public tour program, call 494-5945 or e-mail ccafstours@patrick.af.mil.