07/07/2011 03:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2011

NASA's Private Beach House: Where Astronauts Relax Before Launch

Before blasting off into space, the astronauts of the last Space Shuttle mission will spend their final hours of free time in a private beach house about a mile from the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Visits to the 49-year-old house are a rite of passage practiced by generations of NASA astronauts.

Although the amenities are modest, it's a relaxing, hidden retreat for crew members to enjoy time with their spouses and host pre-flight barbeques.

"It is a significant place in the life of astronauts," former astronaut Mike Mullane said of the cottage, according to NASA. "It's a pretty stressful time when you're getting ready to launch into space."

In a 2009 interview with Florida Today, three-time Shuttle astronaut and one-time mission commander Pat Melroy described the emotional connection to the beach house:

"The psychic energy is kind of incredible. [...] But the best part really is being able to walk along the beach, because I think seeing the ocean satisfies some part of you that, you are seeing the earth, and you know you're going to miss it, and it's really special, but somehow the giantness of the ocean makes you feel like it's all part of space too. So it seems like it's a perfect place to get you ready to go."

After purchasing the house in 1963 for $31,500, NASA replaced its two bedrooms with conference rooms and renamed it the Kennedy Space Center Conference Center. The wood-paneled interior includes a grill, patio, and bar, though NASA notes that the beach house no longer functions as a livable residence.

WATCH: [via Motherboard]