KSC VAB and Wildlife Park

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Sat 23 Apr 2011 19:07
The Kennedy Space Centre Vehicle Assembly Building


We were picked up by the hire car people at eight thirty, as it is Easter Saturday they cannot pick the car up from the marina tomorrow, so we get to keep our battered old Leon two days for the price of one (or about eighteen pounds per day). We are an hour or so from Disney World and only twenty minutes from the Kennedy Space Centre over the Nasa Causeway Bridge. The very bridge we came under yesterday.
Getting in was a very slick process, they are well organised here to deal with enormous crowds. Soon helped by very friendly staff, we waited a short while for one of the many buses that move people around.
Our first driver - George from New York, stopped to let us take pictures of a snoozing alligator, not what we had envisioned seeing, but as George pointed out; we are not only in a vast complex, we are in a vast nature reserve, that is fully protected with many wardens.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is an important U.S. National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic coast of Florida. It is also a 'gateway site' for the Great Florida Birding Trail.


Location and extent: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located due east of Titusville on Merritt Island in Brevard County, Florida, and occupies 140,000 acres. To the north, it borders on the Canaveral National Seashore; to the south it borders on the Kennedy Space Center (with which it also shares some history), which in turn abuts Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River run through the refuge. Since public access to all these areas is controlled in various ways, the refuge is part of a very substantial area of relatively undisturbed wildlife habitat.


History: The land occupied by the NWR was acquired by NASA in the early 1960’s for the development of the Space Center and its non-operational purposes. Until that time there had been little development in the area because of the high number of salt marsh mosquitoes. Public access is normally permitted, and several state highways run across the refuge; however, the public can be excluded if necessary for NASA's purposes (for example, this is currently done in the days before a space shuttle launch or landing).


Habitats and species: The refuge provides a range of habitats, from saltwater estuaries and freshwater impoundments and marshes, to dunes, hardwood hammocks, and scrub. It is therefore rich in over 1000 species of plants, 117 species of fish, 68 amphibians and reptiles, 330 birds and 31 mammal species. Of these species, 21 are listed as endangered either by the state of Florida or by the US federal government. The following are some of the more important species using the refuge; most of them nest there:

Sea turtles including the Loggerhead Sea Turtle and Green turtle (there are about 4,000 nests on the beach each year). American Alligator. Osprey. Bald Eagle. Many species of waterfowl use the refuge as a wintering ground; Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler are resident in small numbers. Many species of shorebirds, some resident and some using the refuge in the course of their migration. Several species of rails. Anhinga. Several species of heron and egret. Glossy and White Ibis. Roseate Spoonbill. Florida Scrub Jay. West Indian Manatee. Florida Panther, an endangered subspecies of Cougar and the Dwarf Siren, a recently discovered salamander.

Next he pointed out a Bald Eagle nest. The pair have been happily nesting here for twenty two years. The pair who mated for life don't spend the summer here but return each fall.
Time to watch two information videos before being dropped at the shuttle viewing gantry. We passed the VAB, not allowed in but George gave us time to take pictures. 


On our bus journey to the shuttle The Vehicle (originally Vertical) Assembly Building, or vee-ay-bee, is located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The building is at Launch Complex 39 at KSC, halfway between Jacksonville and Miami, and due east of Orlando on Merritt Island on the Atlantic coast of Florida. The VAB is the largest single-story building in the world, was the tallest building in Florida until 1974 and is still the tallest building in the United States outside an urban area. It is the fourth largest building in the world by volume.

History: The VAB was originally built to allow for the vertical assembly of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo program. It is now used for housing Space Shuttle external fuel tanks and flight hardware and is the location of space shuttle orbiter mating (stacking) with the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank, that combined makes up the complete Space Transportation System, called the Space Shuttle for short. Once assembled, the Space Transportation System is moved on the Mobile Launcher Platform and Crawler-Transporter to LC-39 Pad A.

Construction: The VAB is 526 feet tall, 716 feet long and 518 feet wide. It covers 8 acres and encloses 129,428,000 cubic feet of space. The building has 10,000 pounds of air conditioning equipment including 125 ventilators on the roof supported by four large air handlers (four cylindrical structures west of the building) to keep moisture under control. Air in the building can be completely replaced every hour. The interior volume of the building is so vast that it has its own weather, including "rain clouds form below the ceiling on very humid days", which the moisture reduction systems are designed to minimize. The building was constructed to withstand hurricanes and tropical storms with a foundation consisting of 30,000 cubic yards of concrete and 4,225 steel rods driven 160 feet into limestone bedrock.

Capabilities: There are four entries to the bays located inside the building, which are the four largest doors in the world. Each door is 456 feet high and takes 45 minutes to completely open or close. The north entry that leads to the transfer aisle was widened by 40 feet, to allow entry of the orbiter. A central slot at the center of the north entry allows for passage of the orbiter's vertical stabilizer. To lift the components of the Space Transportation System, the VAB houses five overhead bridge cranes, including 2 capable of lifting 250 tons, and 136 other lifting devices.



Exterior: The American flag painted on the building was the largest in the world when it was painted in 1976 as part of United States Bicentennial celebrations, along with the star logo of the anniversary, later replaced by the NASA insignia in 1998. It is 209 feet high and 110 feet wide. Each of the stars on the flag is 6 feet across, the blue field is the size of a regulation basketball court, and each of the stripes is 9 feet  wide, the width of a standard road lane.

Storm Damage: Work began in early 2007 to restore the exterior paint on the immense facility. Special attention was paid to the enormous American flag and NASA "meatball" insignia. The work repaired visible damage from years of storms and weathering. The flag and logo had been previously repainted in 1998 for NASA's 40th anniversary.

The most extensive exterior damage occurred during the storm season of 2004, when Hurricane Frances blew off 850 14 × 6 foot aluminum panels from the building, resulting in about 40,000 square feet of new openings in the sides. Twenty five additional panels were blown off the east side by the winds from Hurricane Jeanne just three weeks later. Earlier in the season, Hurricane Charley caused significant but less serious damage, estimated to cost $700,000. Damage caused by these hurricanes was still visible in 2007. Some of these panels are "punch-outs", designed to detach from the VAB when a large pressure differential is created on the outside vs. the inside. This allows for equalization, and helps protect the structural integrity of the building during rapid changes in pressure such as in tropical cyclones.

Future: The Space Shuttle will be retired in 2011. Although the VAB would be used to some extent for assembly and processing of any future vehicles utilising Launch Complex 39, no such system has yet been identified.