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NASA Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)
As you cross over the causeway on your journey to visit the Kennedy Space Centre, you see a huge, monstrous concrete building standing high above anything else you can see. Not the prettiest of structures but a very important one – the Vehicle Assembly Building – commonly known as the VAB.
Originally known as the Vertical Assembly Building, built in 1965/6, it was used to assemble the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo programme. It is now home to the external fuel tanks and other hardware in the Shuttle programme. When the orbitor is ready, it comes here to be assembled with the external fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters. It is then known as the Space Transportation System, commonly called, and known by most, as the Space Shuttle. This is lowered on to the Crawler transporter to begin its slow journey through the massive doors, on its way to the designated launch pad.
Having been involved in the Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle programme the Vehicle Assembly Building will soon start preparations for the next phase of its life, transitioning to the Constellation Programme. This will involve the Ares I (manned) and Ares V (unmanned) rockets to be used to launch Orion – the next generation spacecraft returning to the moon and maybe on to Mars.
However, the facts behind this building are not boasted by NASA . It’s the largest one story building in the world, built in 1975 and until 1974 was the largest building in Florida when the Modis Tower over took it in Jacksonville. The Vehicle Assembly Building covers 8 acres, is 525 feet tall, 716 feet long and 518 feet wide enclosing 129, 428, 000 cubic feet of space! In fact the Statue of Liberty is only 315 feet high.
It is constructed to withstand the variable weather that is Florida, with 98, 590 tons of steel and 65, 000 cubic yards of concrete in its construction. The four high bay doors are record breaking in their own right! They are the largest doors on earth - 456 feet high! Whether an urban myth or true it has been said that NASA employees have reported rain clouds below the ceiling on very humid days!
From a distance you see a huge American Flag painted on one side of the VAB – it’s not until you get close that you appreciate just how enormous this painted flag is. The blue field is the size of a basketball court whilst the stripes are as wide as a standard lane on a US road! To give its true dimensions the flag is 209 feet high and 110 feet wide. It was painted on in 1976 as part of the United States Bi-Centennial celebrations.
So the Vehicle Assembly Building may not win awards for its architectural design but there is more to this gigantic concrete structure looming the approach to Kennedy Space Centre than originally meets the eye.
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