Astronauts Help Launch Heroes & Legends NASA Attraction on Veteran's Day

heroes and legends astronaut exhibit
Astronauts from NASA's Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle programs take part in the ribbon cutting for the new Heroes & Legends attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, Nov. 11, 2016. (Image credit:

CAPE CANAVERAL — Astronauts from four branches of the U.S. military spent Veteran's Day at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday (Nov. 11), attending the launch of a public attraction devoted to honoring America's spaceflight pioneers.

James Lovell, who served as a Navy Captain; Buzz Aldrin, who was a U.S. Air Force Colonel; Walt Cunningham, who was also a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps; and Bruce Melnick, who is one of only two astronauts to hail from the U.S. Coast Guard, joined more than 20 other military and civilian astronauts at a ceremony and ribbon cutting for the new "Heroes & Legends, featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame" exhibit at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

"It is no coincidence that we chose to celebrate the grand opening of Heroes & Legends on this day, Veteran's Day," said John Zarella, a former CNN news correspondent who served as the master of ceremonies. "Many, many of our astronaut heroes are also members of the United States Armed Forces, but not only that, they have all served their country as members of NASA's elite astronaut corps, each one willing to undertake extremely dangerous missions to advance scientific study to benefit all of humanity.” [Photo Gallery: Astronauts' Adventures Come Alive in 'Heroes & Legends’]

Intended as the first stop after guests enter the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Heroes & Legends focuses on the early years of U.S. human spaceflight to explore the concept of heroism. The 37,000 square foot (3,440 sq. m.) attraction marries cutting-edge technology with immersive visual effects, authentic astronaut artifacts and interactive exhibits.

"This great big attraction also has a great big name — 'Heroes & Legends, featuring the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, presented by Boeing. That is because this attraction tells the story of many, many people — not only the astronaut heroes whose daring missions are brought to life inside these walls, but also the countless people and companies who worked behind the scenes to enable those missions to happen," said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Protze delivered his remarks standing in front of the post-modern-inspired façade of the new exhibit, which features a towering bas relief of America's first astronauts, NASA's original Mercury 7.

"It was the six surviving Mercury astronauts who were the first to conceive a place where space explorers would be remembered," said Dan Brandenstein, an Astronaut Hall of Fame inductee and chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. "I can only imagine how proud and humbled they'd have been, not only to see themselves immortalized on this wall, but to see the legacy of spaceflight that they all created."

The opening ceremony for Heroes & Legends at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, Nov. 11, 2016. (Image credit:

"I'm certain that Heroes & Legends far surpasses anything that they would have imagined," said Brandenstein.

Heroes & Legends is the first attraction at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to bear the name of its corporate sponsor, Boeing, which now comprises the companies that built the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft showcased in the exhibit.

"I think it is appropriate going into our next 100 years as a company ... that we look back at the heroes that got us to this point," said John Elbon, the vice president and general manager of Boeing's Space Exploration division. "We are excited to partner with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on this Heroes & Legends attraction."

The goal of Heroes & Legends, as described by the Visitor Complex, is for the public to gain a renewed sense of pride and more indepth understanding of the qualities of heroism represented by NASA's pioneering astronauts — and why they deserve admiration and respect.

"I think it is important as you tour this exhibit to remember all of the dedication and the hard work that it took for those of us who were involved in the astronaut program," said Charlie Duke, who in 1972 became the tenth man to walk on the moon. "Hopefully, it will be an inspiration to you and your grandkids and your kids."

Take a photo tour of Heroes & Legends, featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, at collectSPACE.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.