Apollo 1 Memorial at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Remembering early space exploration and legacy landscapes

By Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

The Apollo 1 Memorial in 3D

Historic Aerial of Launch Complex 34 (1963-03) by NASA Image and Video LibraryDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Launch Complex 34, constructed between 1959-61, was associated with Saturn missile tests, and two Apollo program launches- Apollo 1 and Apollo 7. Before the manned Apollo program, LC 34 was used for planning and development of the Saturn missile program. In 1961, following President John F. Kennedy’s call for the development of a space program that would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the Saturn missile was selected as the launch vehicle choice for the Manned Lunar Landing Program (Apollo mission). Launch Complex 34 was modified to accommodate for these needs.

This 1963 NASA image shows the Saturn 1 SA-4 Launch Vehicle on the pad. The Mobile Service Towers (MST) are in their parked position away from the missile. Parallel railroad tracks were used to position the MST directly over the vehicle. The umbilical tower can be seen just behind the rocket. Note the cableway and blockhouse in the bottom center of the image, and the Atlantic coastline seen at the top right of the image.

Apollo 1 Astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee (1966-12-12/1966-12-12) by NASA Image and Video LibraryDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Launch Complex 34 was the site of the deadly Apollo 1 fire that happened during a countdown simulation and test rehearsal on January 27, 1967. Three astronauts were killed in the blaze, Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee. The trio is shown pictured here just 10 days before the fire. The event would be NASA's first tragedy. Investigation showed that the early Apollo command module had a number of flaws and issues, requiring redesign for the manned missions of the future. Today, the site is part of a National Historic Landmark and is an established memorial dedicated  to the lives and deaths of these early space explorers. 

Apollo 1 Memorial and Landscape (2019-04-11/2019-04-11) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Preservation Concerns

Weathering and environmental factors are creating critical concerns at the site. Today the memorial area and entire complex  is showing impacts from its proximity to the coastal environment, climate change, and from the encroachment of  invasive exotics. The site also shows wear from its years of service as part of an active launch complex. Portions of the site were demolished in 1971 due to metal corrosion, safety concerns, and degradation accelerated by hurricane and storm impacts. In 1973 the site was abandoned in place and turned over from NASA to the United States Air Force (USAF).  In 1987, Launch Complex 34 became a memorial, with kiosks and markers installed to commemorate launches and missions associated with the location, and to honor the astronauts killed in the Apollo tragedy. Today, the USAF, as stewards of the site, have been working with USF researchers to digitally document and perform condition assessments for the historic launch structures at the Cape, including LC 34. 

3D pointcloud of launch pedestal and environs (2019-04-12/2019-04-12) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Expedition Overview

The Digital Heritage and Humanities Center at the University of South Florida Libraries are documenting historic launch complexes at Cape Canaveral, including manned mission and significant missile testing and Cold War Era sites. The team of archaeologists, geographers, and heritage specialists are using 3D imaging and mapping strategies to record the as-built conditions of this historic and imperiled landscape. At Launch Complex 34, the squared-shaped pedestal and circular pad in the center of the site, were recorded using terrestrial laser scanning and reality capture techniques. The building data were combined with aerial LiDAR (shown here as a digital elevation model), and GPS survey to better understand the site layout, extent, and condition. 

3D Pointcloud from terrestrial laser scanning survey (2019-04-12/2019-04-12) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

3D Point cloud from terrestrial laser scanning survey, showing the circular launch pad, launch support structures and remnants, "I" shaped fire brick pad, rails, pedestal launch stand, and flame deflectors parked on the edge of the pad.

3D Animation of the Apollo 1 Pedestal and Landscape (2019-04/2019-04-11) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Terrestrial laser scan data is used to create 3D models and animations, combining information such as aerial LiDAR data and imagery, to map and consider the larger landscape view.

3D Model Render LC 34 Pedestal (2019-04-11) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

3D data allows for measured drawings and accurate modeled renders, like the one shown here, to be developed. The pedestal measures 42 ft. on each side, and is 27 ft. high. There is a circular blast hole in the center that functioned to allow engine exhaust to pass through to a flame deflector, which now sit parked along the edge of the pad. The launch pedestal was constructed from reinforced concrete formed over steel with substantial support columns.

360 Photo of Apollo 1 Memorial Area.

3D Animation of Apollo 1 Memorial (2019-04-12/2019-04-12) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Animated 3D Computer Automated Drawing (CAD) model of the pedestal, showing elevations and perspectives, design details, and color texture information.

Flame deflectors and rail at Launch Complex 34 (2019-04-11/2019-04-11) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Two flame deflectors- made of steel frame covered in 1-inch thick steel plates and with a 4-inch layer of heat resistant ceramic material- were kept available for use with launches at LC 34. Only one deflector was put into position, with the other serving as backup for any failure. These structures each weigh over 150 tons and are 43 feet long, 32 feet wide, and 21 feet in height. Deflectors were moved to the pad using a rail system.

3D Laser Scan Image Showing Flame Deflectors at Launch Complex 34 (2016-01-28/2019-04-11) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Deflectors have a unique inverted "V" shape, and were engineered to protect the launch vehicle and pedestal by controlling and directing engine blast and flames. Today, their welded and bolted steel design is deteriorating, especially on surfaces exposed to sea salts and coastal impacts. The reflective surface properties captured by laser scanning can help delineate surface areas being most impacted by rust and and change, seen in the 3D pointcloud data as areas of blue color.

3D Pointcloud Model Showing Blockhouse at Launch Complex 34 (2016-11-15/2019-04-11) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

The 12-sided dome blockhouse is 120 feet in diameter, located only 1,000 feet to the southwest of the launch pad. The blockhouse was the control center for the complex, and contained important communications, instrumentation, and computer control consoles for handling the launch.

3D Model of the LC 34 Blockhouse (2016-11-15/2019-04-12) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

The LC 34 blockhouse is 20,396 square feet and has two floors. The dome is made up of different layers including an inner dome of reinforced concrete that is five feet thick and contains an interior vault constructed with five feet of reinforced concrete. On the exterior, the structure was sprayed with a four inch layer of shotcrete to consolidate the dome. There is also a breezeway and equipment support building, stairs and decking on the exterior, and a 23 ton blast door that insulates the structure in case of an explosion on the nearby pad.

Open Heritage Alliance (2019-04-11/2019-04-11) by University of South Florida Libraries, Digital Heritage and Humanities CenterDigital Heritage and Humanities Collections, University of South Florida Libraries

Open Heritage 3D

The Digital Heritage and Humanities Center with the University of South Florida Libraries is part of the Open Heritage Alliance and data from this project is being made available through the Open Heritage 3D initiative.  For more about the initiative, see:  https://openheritage3d.org/about

Credits: Story

Find out more about the Digital Heritage and Humanities Center's work by visiting our website at https://www.lib.usf.edu/dhhc/.


This project was made possible by our partnership with the U.S. Air Force and the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We especially would like to thank Thomas Penders, Cultural Resource Manager for the 45th Space Wing, who has been been our collaborator and proponent of preservation, stewardship, and digital documentation efforts at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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