It lacks the stature of the 526-foot tall Vehicle Assembly Building or the utility of NASA's spacecraft processing hangars, but in some ways the modest, isolated house — known simply as "The Beach House" — cuts to the heart of the Kennedy Space Center story.
It was inside this wood frame-and-concrete block house, which was badly damaged last week by Hurricane Matthew, that generations of astronauts said good-bye to their wives, husbands, lovers and best friends, not knowing if they would ever see them again.
"Everybody has in the back of their minds that things may not turn out as planned," former shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane said in an interview with Seeker. "The beach house was a very emotional, poignant place to say their good-byes."
"It's a piece of history," said former astronaut Sandy Magnus, who was a member of the last shuttle crew. "It looks like just a normal house, but it was a protected place where you could go while you're in quarantine."
"The nicest thing about it was when we had the family barbecue," Magnus added.
Two days before launch, shuttle crews could invite five or six guests to the beach house for a cookout.
"It was time where our families could all interact. It was really special," Magnus said.
The space shuttles were retired in 2011, ending, at least temporarily, human spaceflight missions from the United States, and with it sidelining Kennedy Space Center's raison d'etre.
NASA has hired aerospace industry stalwart Boeing and Elon Musk's ambitious SpaceX to begin launching astronauts from Florida again, hopefully in 2018. Since the shuttle program ended, astronauts travel to Russia for rides to space.
By then, the beach house, which suffered in the high winds inflicted by Hurricane Matthew, should be repaired.
"We have protected it from further damage," KSC director Robert Cabana wrote in an email to Seeker. "The important thing is that it's structurally sound."
Costs for repairing the beach house are still being assessed, he added.
The U.S. government bought the house in 1963 as part of the purchase of an oceanfront subdivision called Neptune Beach to accommodate the expansion of what would become Kennedy Space Center.
The government paid a grand total of $31,500 for the development and its land, NASA wrote in a 2010 article about the beach house titled "If Walls Could Talk."
"I don't know who the far-thinking person was that preserved this house from destruction — there were other houses here when this was private property — but thank you," Mullane said in the NASA article.
"I'm sure they could not have imagined how this would be part of manned space flight history," he said.
Originally published on Discovery News.
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Irene Klotz is a founding member and long-time contributor to Space.com. She concurrently spent 25 years as a wire service reporter and freelance writer, specializing in space exploration, planetary science, astronomy and the search for life beyond Earth. A graduate of Northwestern University, Irene currently serves as Space Editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology.