Just before you reach the KSC main gate on Florida Route 405, you'll find the Astronaut Hall of Fame. This was one of the finer private space museums, based on the tremendous support it received directly from the astronauts and their families. Since my visit in 2000, it has become part of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. The entry hall features an immense Alan Bean mural, appropriately titled "Reaching for the Stars." There are also several of his works throughout the museum. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the AHOF collection is that the astronauts and their families/estates have donated much of it. The little bits of gear, clothing and momentos add a great personal feel to the exhibits.
Many folks feel the Apollo 12 crew of Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Al Bean had the most fun of any of the 24 Moon voyagers. They were best friends as well as colleagues; and looked, sounded, and acted like they were really enjoying their challenging mission. Command Module Pilot (CMP) Dick Gordon and his shipmates wore these custom caps (left), featuring Navy wings and propeller spinners on top, during their translunar party - though it was officially an in-flight news conference (right). You might recall a charmingly funny scene, featuring these caps and the crew jamming to the song "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies, in HBO's award-winning series "From the Earth to the Moon."
The earliest Hall of Fame honorees were all Mercury-Gemini-Apollo era veterans, though there were Shuttle commanders among them in the early days of the museum. The most decorated plaque in the Hall probably belongs to this fellow (left): Grandfather of the Astronaut Corps, John Young. There are a record six mission patches below his portrait. Some say he had seven flights if you count lifting-off the Moon as a separate sortie. Mr. Young (CAPT, USN, Ret.) had a desk job at NASA since 1983, but didn't retire from the active astronaut roles until he finally decided to collect a government pension in 2004!
However, the most personally decorated astronaut - that is to say greatest number of high level awards - looks like Rear Admiral (Two Star) Alan B. Shepard, Jr., USN, Retired (1923-1998). He was awarded: the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, plus his many campaign and service medals for WWII and Korea. His last space command, Apollo 14 CM "Kitty Hawk" (left) sits nearby.
A small but significant sign outlines the unabridged Apollo lunar program, featuring crews, landing sites, and mission names all the way up to Apollo 20. It is a sad note that out of a U.S. $30 billion program, the cost to send three more missions to the Moon was only around $43 million. The rockets and spaceships were already built, but the spirit and the support of the United States Congress had largely expired by 1970. Still, to think of Apollo on the Moon until 1975... and grander things afterward.