Kennedy Space Center : Launch Pad and Launch Control Center

Filed under: Kennedy Space Center |

Just recently I went over to Kennedy Space Center to take advantage of the once in a lifetime “Up-Close” tours of the Launch Control Center, The Launch Pad tour and the Vehicle Assembly Building tour. It’s been a long time since the public has been given access to these areas on the space coast and who knows how long access will be permitted in the future?

Our starting point was the Launch Control Center (LCC) and it opened to the public as part of the special 50th anniversary series of rare-access tours. Visitors get the opportunity to go inside Firing Room 4, one of the four firing rooms located inside the launch control center.

The building is four-stories tall  and the Vehicle Assembly Building is attached to the southeast corner of it. The LCC contains offices; telemetry, tracking and instrumentation equipment and the automated Launch Processing System.

Launches have been conducted from the LCC since the unmanned Apollo 4  (Apollo-Saturn 501) launch on November 9, 1967 and its first manned launch was Apollo 8 on December 21, 1968. The tour is a great way to get up close and see where history has been made and also to see where the Launch Director, Flow Director, NASA Test Director, Tank/Booster Test Conductor, Payload Test Conductor and many other officials sit during a launch. It’s a really fascinating place to be!

After visiting the LCC, we then made a quick stop in the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It was the second time I’d visited as Discovery was previously stored here for decommissioning and delivery to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian in Virginia.  Here’s the previous blog links: VAB Building / Discovery Departs For Final Time

On this occasion, the Orbiter Endeavour was in residence being decommissioned and made ready for her final journey to the California Science Center in Los Angeles next month. The orbiter is named after the British HMS Endeavour, the ship which took Captain Jame Cook on his first voyage of discovery back in 1768–1771. This is also why the name is spelled in the British English manner, rather than the American English “Endeavor”.

Of course, no matter how many times you visit the VAB, it’s enormous size overwhelms you. The VAB is the largest single-story building in the world and measure 526 feet (160.3 m) tall, 716 feet (218.2 m) long and 518 feet (157.9 m) wide. It covers 8 acres (3 ha), and encloses 129,428,000 cubic feet (3,665,000 m3) of space. It’s huge!

From there, and perhaps the highlight of all the tours, was the chance to go inside the perimeter fence of Launch Pad 39A for the closest view ever allowed to the public of the world renowned launch pad that has created so much space history. LC-39, as it is known, is the scene of many successful launches to space. The site and its collection of facilities were originally built for the Apollo moon program, and later modified to support Space Shuttle  operations.

The first use of LC-39 came in 1967 with the first Saturn V launch, carrying the unmanned Apollo 4  spacecraft. The second unmanned launch, Apollo 6, also used LC-39A. With the exception of Apollo 10, which used LC-39B,  all manned Apollo-Saturn V launches, commencing with Apollo 8, used LC39A. After the launch of Skylab in 1973, using the Saturn INT-21 rocket, LC-39A was reconfigured for the Space Shuttle and was used for the first Shuttle launch STS-1, using the Orbiter Columbia in 1981. After Apollo 10, LC-39B was kept as a backup launch facility in the case of the destruction of LC-39A, but saw service for all three Skylab missions, the ASTP flight, as well as un-launched Skylab Rescue flight. After ASTP, LC-39B underwent the same reconfiguration as LC-39A, but due to necessary modifications along with budgetary restraints, it was not ready until 1986, and the first Shuttle launch to use it was the ill-fated STS-51-L  flight – the Challenger disaster.

Its future use remains undetermined following the cancellation of Project Constellation but  the pad remains as it was when Atlantis launched on the final space shuttle mission on July 8, 2011, complete with the mobile launcher platform.  There is talk of SpaceX negotiating with NASA to launch their Falcon Heavy rockets in the future, so now really is the time to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s a must visit for anyone in your family that loves space and the history of spaceflight.

More photos at and here’s some video:

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