NASA has allowed visitors a special inside look at the Vehicle Assembly Building [VAB] for more than two years, but that will end on February 11, the last day inside for tourists.
The world-famous NASA building is where workers prepared the Apollo rockets and Space Shuttles for their missions to space. After the retirement of the shuttle program, for an extra fee, the visitor complex took guests inside. The hugely popular " Up Close Tour " has helped breathe new life into the center when the shuttle program ended. It has also extended public enthusiasm about the space program into a new generation; the VAB had been closed to visitors since 1978.
But now NASA is getting ready to make room in the Vehicle Assembly Building for the next generation of heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System [SLS]. The towering launch vehicle will provide NASA with a new capability for human exploration beyond Earth orbit.
The building, described by NASA as " It's side adorned with a painted U.S. flag so large that a city bus could fit within any one of its red and white stripes " was used for 30 years to prepare space shuttle orbiters, their boosters and external fuel tanks for 135 missions. Before that, VAB was used to assemble the stages that formed the 363-foot Saturn V rockets that launched astronauts to the moon.
The building, its side adorned with a painted U.S. flag so large that a city bus could fit within any one of its red and white stripes, has attracted tourists since it was first built in 1966. During the shuttle program however, spectators have had to settle for an outside view only as the fuel in the vehicle's twin solid rocket boosters made the building too dangerous to allow large groups of visitors inside.
NASA is planning its first test flight of the Space Launch System in late 2017. An unmanned Exploration Mission 1 [EM-1] is expected to travel 43,000 miles beyond the moon before returning to the Earth. After that NASA's plans it's " first crewed SLS mission in 2021, which the space agency has proposed having rendezvous with an asteroid redirected in the vicinity of the moon."
According to NASA, the VAB covers 8 acres, is 525 ft tall, 716 ft long and 518 ft wide. Contained with is 129,428,000 cubic feet of space. Other interesting facts:
- The Flag & Bicentennial Emblem was added in 1976.
- The flag is 209 x 110 ft in size and each stripe on the flag is 9ft wide. The stars on the flag are 6 ft across. The Bicentennial Emblem was replaced by the NASA logo in 1998.
- It is composed of: 98,590 tons of steel and 65,000 cubic yards of concrete.
- Inside are 71 cranes and two 250 ton bridge cranes.
- There are four High Bay doors, each 456 ft high.
To put those statistics in an easier to comprehend way, the following comparisons are offered:
- VAB is 525 ft tall, while the Statue of Liberty is only 305 ft tall.
- The volume of the VAB is 129,428,000 cub ft, while the Pentagon is only 77,025,000 cu ft.
- The VAB equals 3.75 Empire State Buildings.
With only a month left, and our "snowbirds" in residence, it would be wise to make plans to tour the VAB soon - before the opportunity is gone.