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bootneck

Kennedy Space Center (KSC) - temporary access to LC-39A and Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)

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I visited KSC last week while on holiday in Florida. This was my 6th visit to the center in 20 years but the difference this time was that I could go inside the VAB and enter LC-39A launch pad. Evidently there is a "window of opportunity", between the Shuttle Transportation System (STS) program ending and the Space Launch System (SLS) program starting and this means that the VAB and LC-39A are not currently in full operational use. NASA has given KSC permission to allow visitors (tourists) access to these sites for an undetermined period. KSC do not know how long they will be allowed to continue with these tours, one official told me that it could end as soon as next Easter.

The cost of each tour is additional to the KSC entrance fee and works out at approx $25 per tour. I went on both of these tours and can say from personal experience that, for the Real Space enthusiast, these tours are a 'must do' before the facility is removed. To put this availability into perspective, these tours have not been previously available to 'tourists', only officials and invited visitors, since KSC was built in the early 1960's. It is not known if this opportunity will ever be repeated again when NASA restarts full operational use of these facilities.

I've attached some images here to show what you can see on the tours. I have loads more images and these will eventually find their way into the Walkarounds Section.

cheers

Mike

Launch Complex 39A

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Vehicle Assembly Building

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Thanks for sharing Mike - great pics - KSC was the highlight of my Florida visit last year (with Kermit Weeks's collection a close second) - they couldn't have done thsoe tours when we were there as the final shuttle launch was only 2 weeks after we visited

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Thanks for sharing Mike - great pics - KSC was the highlight of my Florida visit last year (with Kermit Weeks's collection a close second) - they couldn't have done thsoe tours when we were there as the final shuttle launch was only 2 weeks after we visited

Hi Andy,

Yes, this period for tours may be very short indeed so I thought I'd highlight it, just in case anyone is planning a trip out there in the near future.

As an aside, I note that you are a USN/USAF enthusiast. Did you get to the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola? I went there and took a load of images. If you want me to send you any then just pm me so that we can arrange something off-line

cheers

Mike

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The main reason why the VAB was not available for tours during the shuttle program had to do with it being used as a storage site for fuelled SRB segments. When the facility was built for the Apollo program, it was just an assembly facility. The fuelling of the boosters would take place only at the launch pads (since they utilized liquid oxygen and hydrogen). Stacking of fueled solid rocket segments on the pad meant that KSC security around the VAB was tightened and they had to do some reshuffling of offices inside the VAB when the shuttle program started as everyone needed to pass more stringent background checks. It take A LOT of heat to ignite SRB fuel, so it is relatively safe and inert (and the igniters aren't installed until the shuttle is at the pad). But, somebody with a suicide streak and a minimum of knowledge could do it.

Since SLS (if it goes ahead in that configuration) utilizes solid rocket boosters same as the shuttle, the VAB again will likely be closed to the tours if and when storing of fuelled SRB segments takes place. So yes, this is indeed a rare period to visit the VAB and experience it in a manner similar to the Apollo days.

Edited by JMChladek

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Thank you for sharing! This looks like a very cool thing to do and you'd be crazy to miss the opportunity if you're there.

Have they already removed bits from 39A? It looks like it's missing something. It also looks smaller than I remember but that might be my imagination

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N

Thank you for sharing! This looks like a very cool thing to do and you'd be crazy to miss the opportunity if you're there.

Have they already removed bits from 39A? It looks like it's missing something. It also looks smaller than I remember but that might be my imagination

No, LC-39A is still as it was for the Shuttle program, the Mobile Launch Platform (MLP) is even situated there at the moment.

LC-39B has been mostly dismantled, there are plans to use the pad for the SLS program if that program gets the go ahead. I've posted an image below of how LC-39B looks at the moment

Mike

LC-39B in dismantled state. The large tower is a Lightning Conducting tower situated approx 500ft behind the actual launch pad.

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As an aside, I note that you are a USN/USAF enthusiast. Did you get to the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola? I went there and took a load of images. If you want me to send you any then just pm me so that we can arrange something off-line

Hi Mike

No I didn't - it was too far from Orlando for a day trip - the missus would have gone but the kids wouldn't. I would have given them away for a chance to go but no-one would have them :analintruder: . I'll PM you and thanks for the offer

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What about that thing that used to be on top of the External Tank ? Or was that not a permanent fixture of the structure ?

here it is in place over the ET (sorry about the slightly ginormous pic):

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That is the "beanie cap" which is officially known as the gaseous oxygen vent arm. Its still there, but folded back (look directly above the folded back crew access arm). Look close and you will see it in Mike's pictures.

The vent arm is designed to flush venting gaseous oxygen vapors from the LOX tank away from the surface of the ET. Reason why it is there is if they had just allowed the vapors to vent from the nose cap directly, ice could form and that could break away on liftoff to damage the orbiter. There is also a gaseous hydrogen vent arm that plugs into the backside of the ET at the bottom of the intertank (the LHX tank is below the LOX tank). Those vapors are sent away from the pad and down to a "burn stack" which is essentially a constantly burning flame at the top of a tower which ignites the hydrogen so that gaseous hydrogen doesn't build up in high concentrations to potentially catch fire on its own. The burn stack is similar to what you see at petro-chemical refineries. Smaller spark ignitors at the base of the pad do similar things just before SSME ignition to also help burn off any gaseous hydrogen vapors potentially collecting down there as well. The oxygen vent arm retracts about two minutes before flight and the hydrogen vent arm pulls back at SRB ignition.

Here's an image of Pad 39B from 2009 when it had the Ares 1-X test rocket on it. The lightning masts were installed since the rocket was too tall for the original pad's mast. You can also see the water tower for the pad's water deluge system and an LOX storage tank. The LHX storage tank is on the opposite side of the pad at about the same distance. It kind of shows the lengths the engineers went to to make sure the LOX and LHX fuelling systems were kept as far apart from one another as possible.

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Edited by JMChladek

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Fantastic shots there. I have been twice to the facility but as the shuttle program was live those areas were strictly out of bounds, though we did visit the assembly area for part of the ISS.

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Hi Anthony,

it's well worth going.

These are the sort of shots I was able to get with my little Fujifilm compact. Anyone with a proper DSLR etc., would have a field day there.

I managed to pick up a Revell 1:144 Launch Tower and Shuttle kit, from a LHS whilst out there, and I'll use these images to help with my build.

Mike

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Hi Anthony,

it's well worth going.

These are the sort of shots I was able to get with my little Fujifilm compact. Anyone with a proper DSLR etc., would have a field day there.

I managed to pick up a Revell 1:144 Launch Tower and Shuttle kit, from a LHS whilst out there, and I'll use these images to help with my build.

<snip>

Mike

Whooa - I misread your post for a second - saw the top of the pictures and thought this was your build! :-)

Very nice pictures - the skill is in the photographer, not the camera. I suspect you are going to have to get a lot of evergreen/etc rods and I bars to dress up the kit when you build it.

Did you find any nice local hobby shops? I found a model train shop in Orlando - but that was about it. I normally via mail-order and get a delivery to the place I am staying.

anthony

Edited by Anthony Kesterton

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There isn't much for good model shops in the Titusville area from what I can recall. Orlando had a place I believe called Forbidden Planet, but everytime I went over a four year period, their selection of unbuilt kits kept shrinking and shrinking as they gradually expanded their gaming supplies. A buddy of mine in Merritt Island has a source for kits, but he tells me he has to drive a bit to get to it.

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There isn't much for good model shops in the Titusville area from what I can recall. Orlando had a place I believe called Forbidden Planet, but everytime I went over a four year period, their selection of unbuilt kits kept shrinking and shrinking as they gradually expanded their gaming supplies. A buddy of mine in Merritt Island has a source for kits, but he tells me he has to drive a bit to get to it.

Sounds like mail-order is the way to go....

thanks for the info

anthony

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Even the one in Titusville was closed the weekend I was there, evidently they had closed up to go to a regatta at Mount Dora.

I drove up to Pensacola, a long way, but found two great hobby shops; Bobes Hobbies and John's Hobbies.

Amongs the load of kits I bought, I managed to pick up a Revell 1:144 Launch Tower & Shuttle Stack at one and an Airfix 1:76 SAM-2 Missile kit at the other. Both of these being sold out long ago in UK.

Mike

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So how much in postage did it cost to ship the launch tower and shuttle kit back? It is NOT a small box.

In the states, usually if there is a good sized military base, there tends to be well stocked shops nearby. The canaveral area is a little different. In years past, I understand there have been some decent shops, but given that there aren't too many rocket kits out there except for the legacy NASA programs (which the on site gift shops tend to carry an abundance of), there isn't much draw for the out of towners to go hunting and the number of shops have dwindled, same as elsewhere.

There was ONE hobbyshop I ran into in Titusville proper when I saw STS-131 fly and I think it was gone by 135 (or they were just closed that day, but I never saw the sign for it either when I drove by). It had a weird stock of stuff though. With the shuttle program essentially finished now (Atlantis moving to the visitors center in early November will be the last shuttle program specific activity at KSC I am aware of), the businesses closest to KSC are taking a bit of a hit as space workers now out of a job move elsewhere. Pensacola on the otherhand is a major US Navy base with the Blue Angels on site as well as people rotating in and out for training. Fresh customers rotating through the area regularly are a good client base for hobby shops.

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Hi Jay,

I brought the Launch Tower and Shuttle stack home in my luggage by stripping the components down and spreading around the cases. I then flat-packed the packaging and laid them in the widest part of the bigger suitcase.

There is a still hobby shop in Titusville, "Propa Place" but that is the one that was closed at the weekend I went. Last time I went in there he sold kits on the left of the store and R/C stuff on the right.

There is a decent hobby selection at the Valiant Air Museum in Titusville (6600 Tico Road). The also sell pre-owned kits and I managed to pick up an old Matchbox 1:72 Phantom F-4M/K, the one with the old HMS Ark Royal decals. I also got a HAWK 1:48 OV-10 Bronco and a Lindberg XFY-1 POGO vertical take-off experimental plane.

cheers

Mike

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Thanks for posting, I had planned to visit florida in a couple of weeks time, but canned that as I had planned to meet Neil Armstrong who was expected to be there for 40th Apollo 17 anniversary dinner. Something I had wanted to do for years, but will never be, I have met five of the other moon walkers.

still have the week booked of work, will have to reconsider considering the small window to view the vab.

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Valiant Air Museum is a nice place to visit, even if you aren't hunting for kits. Granted they aren't Pensacola, but they have a nice eclectic display of aircraft there, including a very rare F-14A Tomcat with its TF-30 engines still installed (it is on loan from Pensacola). Reason I say that is most every other TF-30 powered Tomcat in museums in the states had their engines removed so Iranians didn't potentially get their hands on engine parts to keep their fleet going. It was really just a bureaucratic bugaboo to make some politician feel good about himself, but as a result, most F-14As on display don't have engines in them. Titusville and Tulsa, OK are the only two I know for certain of (and likely Pensacola). The aircraft is also pretty close to flight ready since the stipulation when it was first put on display is so the Navy could take it back and reactivate it after a few days work in an emergency (doubt it will happen now, but it was a consideration when the birds were retired). So it is about as close to operational a Tomcat as you'll ever likely see.

If you can still go to Florida, I say do it. Tours of the VAB and LCC are potentially unique enough to warrant them and the weather in December is not too oppressive as far as the heat goes. And while Neil is no longer with us, plenty of his friends still are. Besides, Cernan is a great speaker and I tend to have more fun hanging out with the CMPs than the moon walkers anyway (such as Al Worden for instance). I've met most of the surviving moonwalkers myself and would have loved to have met Armstrong. But I also now have to wait until the next lifetime. But meeting guys like Worden, Gordon, Lousma, Gibson, Cunningham, Carr and others have more than made up for it. Cherish these times as the old guard NASA guys are certainly not getting any younger. I'm just glad guys like Worden have now written books about some of those missions we haven't heard too much about. I've got my own book on space stations coming out in 2014 (MOL, Skylab and the Salyuts up to Mir and the ISS), but while I've got some good research done from interviews in it, the BEST stuff IMHO comes from the first person accounts.

Edited by JMChladek

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