Historic Documentation: Documenting Cape Canaveral

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Using 3D laser scanning technology, a team of researchers from the Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) at the University of South Florida, is focusing their cutting edge instruments on Cape Canaveral to document and preserve space history in Florida.

"This is where John Glenn took off into the first manned orbital mission for the United States," said AIST director and project leader Travis Doering. "This launch pad hasn’t been used in decades. So we have come out to preserve it virtually and to be able to save it for future generations so they can see what it looks like today."

The AIST team is working in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, scanning six locations to develop a digital documentation and virtual tour of Cape Canaveral. One of the most famous locations, launch complex 14, is where the Mercury Mission launched in 1962, making John Glenn the first American to orbit the earth.

The launch pad is more than 50 years old and like all of the structures lining the Cape, it’s been weathered and degraded by the salt air from the Atlantic Ocean, less than 200 yards away. The degradation is a significant factor in the conservation and preservation efforts.

"The equipment that we are using can capture everything that is visible, anything that you can see to accuracy to two millimeters or less," said Doering.

The team is scanning the site with extreme detail, to digitally conserve and preserve the historic landmarks. AIST director Lori Collins describes the multifaceted scans as a way for all of us to learn about space history.

"Also, to help the present with understanding them better. When you look at these sites you really can’t appreciate what they are, you see them from one perspective," said Collins. "We’re able through these technologies to see whole areas, wide areas, understand things in different ways and certainly present them digitally to the public in different ways."

The AIST scanning project includes interiors and exteriors of six of the most significant structures that remain at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, including buildings that exist nowhere else in the world today.

Archaeologist Tom Penders is the cultural resources manager for Patrick Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and says the scanning project at the Cape will change the way we view the site.

"It’s not just important for Florida history; it’s for our nation’s history as well. I mean, we put people into space," said Penders. "The entire space program started here in Florida. We have a space program because of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center."

Many of the architectural aspects of the buildings are unique to Cape Canaveral. Several of the scan sites are blockhouses, built in the 1960’s to be able to withstand the force of the rocket and missile launches and had periscopes sticking out of the top to view the lift-off. They too only exist at the Cape and will be digitally scanned and preserved virtually.

"This structure behind me actually was associated with the minuteman missile complex activities that went on out here at Cape Canaveral," said Collins. "So we’re documenting these in an effort to preserve them for the future."

Collins and the AIST team bring the data back to USF and students can explore the sites through the technology.

"We’re also bringing this same data back to the classroom and we are able to virtually bring students out with us on a project and we can use this as a way to learn and explore Florida history and our nation’s history."

Katy Hennig is a multimedia journalist at the University of South Florida covering stories about student and faculty innovation and achievement.

A 257Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE