In 1963, NASA bought part of a small neighborhood near its expanding Kennedy Space Center in Florida. For $31,500, it got several homes, a gas station and grocery store, all of which it proceeded to promptly tear down, reports Cheryl L. Mansfield from NASA. Except, for some forgotten reason, the agency decided to spare one modest two-story bungalow built of concrete blocks and wood. Soon, as NASA began sending humans into space, the bungalow became known as the Astronauts' Cottage or simply the Beach House, and it played an important role in the human drama of space travel.
That beach bungalow was one of the structures at the Kennedy Space Center that suffered the most damage by Hurricane Matthew, with part of its roof sheered off. Despite the fact that the building has been little used since the shuttle program was discontinued in 2011, KSC director Robert Cabana tells Irene Klotz at Discovery News that the structure will be repaired. “We have protected it from further damage. The important thing is that it’s structurally sound,” he says.
So why is NASA interested in preserving a little cottage by the sea when it has multi-billion dollar projects to tend to nearby? Because the Beach House was where astronauts could meet with their families before their missions to relax and connect while contemplating being hurtled into space by a rocket full of explosives. “Everybody has in the back of their minds that things may not turn out as planned,” former shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane tells Klotz. “The beach house was a very emotional, poignant place to say their good-byes.”
“As a spouse, you know you’re coming out here to say goodbye, and you don't know if it’s the last time,” Mullane's wife, Donna tells Mansfield.
Those fears were often justified. Alex Pasternack at Motherboard reports the Beach House is where 14 astronauts saw their loved ones for the last time. In the early days, astronauts were allowed to spend the nights in the house. But during the shuttle era, the rules changed. Often ground crews would put on a barbecue or picnic for departing shuttle crews at the beach house before leaving to give astronauts some private times with their loved ones before they were required to go into mandatory quarantine before the launch.
The beach house, which in 2013, was remodeled into a small conference center, wasn't the only damage NASA sustained from the recent hurricane. According to Joseph Dussault at The Christian Science Monitor, Hurricane Matthew damaged other roofs and outbuildings at the Kennedy Space Center and knocked down several outdoor artifacts. Klotz reports the beach house should be repaired by 2018 when it’s hoped SpaceX will begin launching American astronauts into space once again.