The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off on July 16, 1969, from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex. (NASA/AFP/Getty Images)
By Rick Neale, Florida Today
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (Florida Today)-- Though NASA relies on Russia to transport astronauts into orbit, retired astronaut Winston Scott remains optimistic about the next half-century of American spaceflight.
On Monday, NASA will show off its new Orion crew capsule at Kennedy Space Center in advance of an unmanned 2014 orbital test flight. This deep-space exploration program may ultimately send humans to the moon, asteroids and Mars.
And on a parallel path, SpaceX's Dragon capsule splashed down in May in the Pacific Ocean, pushing commercial spacecraft closer to servicing the International Space Station.
"We're moving forward. We're just moving forward very slow," Scott said Sunday during ceremonies marking the space center's 50th anniversary.
"Many of us would like to see America accelerate -- let's get back in the game quickly. But it's slow. And we are making progress," Scott said.
Kennedy Space Center opened July 1, 1962, as NASA's Launch Operations Center during the Space Race with the Soviet Union. The Merritt Island complex was renamed Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 29, 1963, one week after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, said Stephen Smith, KSC Visitor Complex spokesman.
Constructed amid mosquito-infested marshland, the facility later hosted the historic Apollo 11 lunar launch and 135 shuttle missions.
Scott flew aboard Shuttles Endeavour and Columbia as a mission specialist in 1996-97. Sunday, he shared photos, videos and personal anecdotes -- including a primer on how astronauts use strap-in space toilets -- with spectators at the Visitor Complex.
Scott said astronauts should have set foot on Mars by now -- but the federal government has lacked political will and economic incentive to even return to the moon in recent decades.
Carol Scott, NASA commercial crew program manager, said the final shuttle flight last July has caused confusion among the general public.
"Even though the shuttle's retired, NASA's not retired. NASA's not closing. Kennedy Space Center's not closing," Carol Scott said.
"This whole area's going to become a spaceport, just like an airport out of Orlando (Fla.) would be. This will now be the next gateway for you to go and get a ride on a rocket and go to whatever your destination is in space," she said of the space center's next 50 years.
The Orion crew module arrived Friday at the space center from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Engineers will begin installing hardware and components in advance of the 2014 test flight, said Stu McClung, Orion crew module landing and recovery system manager.