VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
During the past year Vandenberg’s Space and Technology Center, sometimes referred to as the base museum, has received various upgrades that are expected to continue into 2017.
One of the largest renovations in progress is to the former blockhouse where the countdown was conducted from the complex’s first launch in 1959, to its last in 1980.
“One of the plans for the blockhouse is to create a hands-on, interactive experience with space situational awareness and provide a (Science Technology Engineering Math) classroom,” said Jay Prichard, 30th Space Wing Vandenberg Space and Technology Center director. “We also will have a launch control center exhibit, as well as an interactive control center simulator. This will allow us to sit on console and pull a count, and actually be able to go through an on-console countdown. We can put anyone on console and either launch an actual compressed air rocket, or just do a simulation. They will have a real visceral understanding of what it means to be on console, on launch day. It’s one thing to sit and watch a launch, it’s another to sit on console and be a part of it.”
In order to make the vision of the blockhouse a reality, significant effort was made to restore the facility to its former glory.
“The most recent renovation occurred at the blockhouse,” said Christopher Ryan, 30th Civil Engineer Squadron archaeologist. “The crucial first step was remediation of asbestos and lead-based paint from the building – that paved the way for everything else. I think the best term is restoration, because the people involved in this project were true craftsmen. A great example is the front door, which is essentially a blast door. You can’t just order a new one. So, just as the original door was fabricated from scratch, the restoration team studied the original design, re-fabricated the parts that had rusted away, and then blended them back in to the remaining portion of that door.”
In addition to facility renovations, the center now goes by a different name. Previously the Space and Missile Heritage Center, the new moniker, Vandenberg’s Space and Technology Center aims to communicate the dynamic nature of an always evolving, highly technical field.
“We changed the name from the Vandenberg Space and Missile Heritage Center, to bring our name into a more modern direction of what we do,” said Prichard. “We are still part of the Air Force heritage program, but that heritage is evolving every day. One of the things a museum does is to inspire thought, and that isn’t a static thing – it’s a dynamic action. We just happen to use heritage assets to inspire thought about what we’re going to do now and into the future. We’re trying to get future generations excited about science, technology, engineering, mathematics and history.”
As well as major changes to the blockhouse, the West Pad and clean room were also renovated – which can be used to add special meaning to promotion and retirement ceremonies.
“We’ve also refurbished the West pad and our clean room,” said Prichard. “That’s where we launched 31 (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) satellites over the course of history out here. We also use that area for special events, like promotions and retirements. These ceremonies are important because it gives us an opportunity for SLC-10 to become part of the fabric of someone’s career path. They can say they went to their next rank in this place. This place of proud heritage. This place where technology was created, where our nation galvanized itself in the space business. It’s a great metaphor for the future of one’s career.”
Since being deemed a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1986, the center has maintained a crucial connection to not just Vandenberg history – but American Cold War history as well.
The Air Force is coming up on its 60th year of ballistic missile development on the Central Coast of California,” said Ryan. “What happened here during that 60-year period is an important part of local history, an important part of Air Force history, and an important part of American history. The Thor program was the first chapter of that history, and the chapters that followed were built from many of the lessons learned from the Thor program. To expand the museum by restoring essential features for the complex serves to remind us of the many lessons learned from not only the Thor mission, but all the ballistic missile development missions that served to shape the United States Air Force, and the National Missile Defense system that exist today.”
The contractors who made the renovations happen found themselves rewarded with the unique experience of becoming a part of history.
“We coordinated all construction efforts for the remodel project,” said Phil Cabernoch, T. Simons Co. Inc. superintendent. “We also worked with our sub-contractors throughout the project in the different phases of construction. The work was really important so we can preserve the history of this base for future generations to enjoy and learn from. It gave us great satisfaction knowing many people will visit that museum and get to enjoy the significant history it holds.”
For Prichard, all his hard work is well worth witnessing those who visit the center and realize it’s all much more than just a museum, but rather the embodiment of something all Americans are a part of.
“One of the great things about doing this job, is having people come out here and see them take ownership of it,” said Prichard. “It’s my job to help people find that ownership, and help them find why all this matters to them. I could not be more proud of the guys who worked on the blockhouse, and the dedication they put into making sure this was done right. They did a brilliant job of preserving this structure. It’s literally like it just moved backward in time 50 years.”