Kennedy Space Center

The John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is the U.S. government installation that manages and operates America's astronaut launch facilities. Serving as the base for the country's three space shuttles, the NASA field center also conducts unmanned civilian launches from adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (operated by the 45th Space Wing). KSC has been the launch site for every U.S. human space flight since December 1968. Its iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is the fourth-largest structure in the world by volume[1] and was the largest when completed in 1965.[2]

Located on Merritt Island, Florida, the center is north-northwest of Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean, midway between Miami and Jacksonville on Florida's Space Coast. It is 34 miles (55 km) long and roughly 6 miles (10 km) wide, covering 219 square miles (570 km2). A total of 13,500 people worked at the center as of 2008.[3]
STS-60 shuttle launch from Pad 39A on February 3, 1994

All launch operations are conducted at Launch Complex 39 (LC-39), where the shuttle's major components (orbiter, external fuel tank and booster rockets) arrive, are stacked (mated) and checked out inside the VAB; then moved to Pad 39A for launch. Shuttles were also launched from adjoining Pad 39B until 2007, when it was modified for the 2009 Ares I-X launch. Both pads are on the ocean, 3 miles (5 km) east of the VAB. The Shuttle Landing Facility, among the longest runways in the world, is just to the north. From 1969–1972, LC-39 was the departure point for all six Apollo manned Moon landing missions using the Saturn V, the largest and most powerful operational launch vehicle in history.

The KSC Industrial Area, where many of the center's support facilities are located, is 5 miles (8 km) south of LC-39. It includes the Headquarters Building, the Operations and Checkout Building and the Central Instrumentation Facility. KSC is also home to the Merritt Island Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network station (MILA), a key radio communications and spacecraft tracking complex. The center operates its own short-line railroad.

KSC is a major Central Florida tourist destination and is approximately one hour's drive from Walt Disney World and other theme parks in the Orlando area. The Visitor Complex offers public tours of the center and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Because much of the installation is a restricted area and only nine percent of the land is developed, the site also serves as an important wildlife sanctuary; Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore are other features of the area. Center workers can encounter Bald Eagles, American alligators, wild boars, Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes, Florida panthers and Florida manatees. KSC is one of ten major NASA field centers, and has several facilities listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Kennedy Space Center was created and has evolved to meet the changing needs of America's manned space program, initially in competition with the Soviet Union. What is today KSC was authorized in 1958 during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The facility was originally known as the Launch Operations Directorate (LOD), reporting to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.


President John F. Kennedy's 1961 goal of a lunar landing before 1970 led to an expansion of NASA operations from a few buildings in the Industrial Area of Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex (later Air Force Station), notably Hangar S, to Merritt Island. NASA began land acquisition in 1962, buying title to 131 square miles (340 km2) and negotiating with the state of Florida for an additional 87 square miles (230 km2).[4] The major buildings in KSC's Industrial Area were designed by architect Charles Luckman.[5]

On July 1, 1962, the site was renamed the Launch Operations Center, achieving equal status with other NASA centers; and on November 29, 1963, the facility received its current name by Executive Order 11129 following Kennedy's death.[6]

Mercury and Gemini
Main articles: Project Mercury and Project Gemini

The U.S. accomplished a manned lunar landing in three stages—Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. Mercury's objectives were to place a manned spacecraft in earth orbit, investigate human performance and ability to function in space, and safely recover the astronaut and spacecraft. Although Mercury was directed by NASA, launches were from the U.S. Air Force's Cape Canaveral Annex. The first two manned tests used the Redstone booster from LC-5 for the 1961 suborbital flights of Alan Shepard on May 5 (the first American in space) and Gus Grissom on July 21. The first American in orbit, and the first carried by the larger Atlas D rocket, was John Glenn, launched from LC-14 on February 20, 1962. Three more orbital flights followed.

The more complex two-man Gemini spacecraft, and its Titan II booster, based on the military ICBM, helped carry out rendezvous and docking and extra-vehicular activity missions critical for Apollo. Twelve Gemini missions were launched from Cape Canaveral's LC-19, the last ten of which were manned. The first manned flight, Gemini 3, took place on March 23, 1965. The final flight, Gemini 12, launched on November 11, 1966.

Main article: Apollo program
A Saturn V carrying Apollo 15 rolls out to Pad 39A in 1971 on Mobile Launch Platform 1.

The Apollo program required larger launchers—the Saturn family of boosters. The two-stage Saturn I and 1B rockets were erected and launched at the Cape's Launch Complexes 34 and 37. The first Saturn launch, SA-1, came on October 27, 1961 from LC-34. On January 27, 1967, the crew for the first planned manned Apollo mission, AS-204 (also designated Apollo 1), Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died by fire on the same pad atop a Saturn 1B; the first spacecraft-related astronaut deaths. After significant changes to the spacecraft, Apollo 7 was launched from LC-34 into earth orbit using a Saturn IB on October 11, 1968.

Launch Complex 39
Main article: Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39
The VAB (center) in 1999 with the LCC jutting out from its right and Pads A and B in the distance

Missions to the Moon required the large three-stage Saturn V rocket (111 m high and 10 m in diameter). At KSC, Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) was built on Merritt Island to accommodate the new rocket. Construction of the $800 million project began in November 1962. LC-39 pads A and B were completed by October 1965 (a planned Pad C was canceled), the VAB was completed in June 1965, and the infrastructure by late 1966. The complex included a hangar capable of holding four Saturn Vs, the VAB (130 million ft³); a transporter capable of carrying 5,440 tons along a crawlerway to either of two launch pads; and a 446-foot (136 m) mobile service structure. Three Mobile Launch Platforms, each with a fixed launch umbilical tower, were also built. LC-39 also included the Launch Control Center and a news media site.

From 1967 through 1973, there were 13 Saturn V lift-offs, including the ten remaining Apollo missions after Apollo 7. The first of three unmanned flights, Apollo 4 (Apollo-Saturn 501) on November 9, 1967, was also the first rocket launch from KSC itself. The Saturn V's first manned launch on December 21, 1968 was Apollo 8's lunar orbiting mission. The next two missions tested the Lunar Module: Apollo 9 (earth orbit) and Apollo 10 (lunar orbit). Apollo 11, launched from Pad A on July 16, 1969, made the first Moon landing on July 20. Apollo 12 followed four month later.


From 1970–1972, the Apollo program concluded at KSC with the launches of missions 13 through 17. On May 14, 1973, the last Saturn V launch put the Skylab space station in orbit from Pad 39A. Pad B, modified for Saturn IBs, was used to launch three manned missions to Skylab that year, as well as the final Apollo spacecraft for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

In 1976, the VAB's south parking area was the site of Third Century America, a science and technology display commemorating the U.S. Bicentennial, also when the U.S. flag was painted on the building. During the late 1970s, LC-39 was reconfigured to support the Space Shuttle. Two Orbiter Processing Facilities were built near the VAB as hangars with a third added in the 1980s.

1980s–2000s: the Space Shuttle
Main article: Space Shuttle

KSC became the launch site for the Space Shuttle program beginning in 1981. The initial launch, Columbia on April 12, 1981, was the first of a vehicle with astronauts aboard which had no prior unmanned launch.
Shuttle Atlantis is moved to Pad 39A for the 1990 launch of STS-36.

KSC's 2.9 mile (4.6 km) Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) is the orbiters' primary end-of-mission landing site, although the first KSC landing did not take place until the tenth flight, when Challenger completed STS-41-B on February 11, 1984; the primary landing site until then was Edwards Air Force Base in California, subsequently used as a backup landing site. The SLF also provides a return-to-launch-site (RTLS) abort option, which has not been required.

After 24 successful shuttle flights, Challenger was torn apart 73 seconds after the launch of STS-51-L on January 28, 1986; the first shuttle launch from Pad 39B and the first U.S. manned launch failure, killing the seven crew members. An O-ring seal in the right booster rocket failed at liftoff, leading to subsequent structural failures. Flights resumed on September 29, 1988 with STS-26 after extensive modifications to many aspects of the shuttle program.

On February 1, 2003, Columbia and her crew of seven were lost during re-entry over Texas during the STS-107 mission (the 113th shuttle flight); a vehicle breakup triggered by damage sustained during launch from Pad 39A on January 16, when a piece of foam insulation from the orbiter's external fuel tank struck the orbiter's left wing. During reentry, the damage created a hole allowing hot gases to melt the wing structure. Like the Challenger disaster, the resulting investigation and modifications interrupted shuttle flight operations at KSC for more than two years until the STS-114 launch on July 26, 2005.

The shuttle program has also experienced five main engine shutdowns at LC-39, all within four seconds or less before launch; and one abort to orbit, STS-51F on July 29, 1985. Shuttle missions during nearly 30 years of operations have included deploying satellites and interplanetary probes, conducting space science and technology experiments, visits to the Russian MIR space station, construction and servicing of the International Space Station, deployment and servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope and serving as a space laboratory. The shuttle is scheduled to be retired from service in 2011 after 134 launches.

On October 28, 2009, the Ares I-X launch from Pad 39B was the first unmanned launch from KSC since the Skylab workshop in 1973.

President Obama and Sen. Bill Nelson arrive at the Shuttle Landing Facility in 2010.

The planned end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 is expected to produce a significant downsizing of the KSC workforce similar to that experienced at the end of the Apollo program in 1972. LC-39 would be the launch site for the Ares I and Ares V rockets, which could carry the manned Orion spacecraft by mid-decade if NASA's Constellation program were implemented; although the Obama administration has budgeted instead for a new manned booster developed by the private sector to ferry astronauts into Earth orbit.[7]

Unmanned NASA launches at Cape Canaveral
Pioneer 1 atop its launcher

NASA's first launch, Pioneer 1, came on October 11, 1958 from Cape Canaveral LC-17A using a Thor-Able booster. The civilian agency has used launch pads at Cape Canaveral AFS ever since for many unmanned launches ranging from satellites to lunar probes, including the Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter series during the 1960s.

NASA has also launched communications and weather satellites from Launch Complexes 40 and 41, built at the north end of the Cape in 1964 by the Air Force for its Titan IIIC and Titan IV rockets. From 1974–1977 the powerful Titan IIIE served as the heavy-lift vehicle for NASA, launching the Viking and Voyager series of planetary spacecraft and the Cassini–Huygens Saturn probe from LC-41.

NASA currently uses two Cape Canaveral pads: SLC-41 for the Atlas V and SLC-37B for the Delta IV, both for heavy payloads.

A Mercury Redstone rocket on display at Gate 3 was toppled by Hurricane Francis on September 7, 2004.

Florida's peninsular shape and temperature contrasts between land and ocean provide ideal conditions for electrical storms earning Central Florida the reputation as "lightning capitol of the United States".[8][9] This makes extensive lightning protection and detection systems necessary to protect employees, structures and spacecraft on launch pads safe.[10] On November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 was struck by lightning just after lift-off from Pad 39A, but the flight continued safely. The most powerful lightning strike recorded at KSC occurred at LC-39B on August 25, 2006 while shuttle Atlantis was being prepared for STS-115. NASA managers were initially concerned that the lightning strike caused damage to Atlantis, but none was found.

In October 2004, Hurricane Charley caused an estimated $700,000 in damage to KSC. On September 7, 2004, Hurricane Frances directly hit the area with sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) and gusts up to 94 miles per hour (151 km/h), the most damaging storm to date. The Vehicle Assembly Building lost 1,000 exterior panels, each 3.9 feet (1.2 m) x 9.8 feet (3.0 m) in size. This exposed 39,800 sq ft (3,700 m2) of the building to the elements. Damage occurred to the south and east sides of the VAB. The shuttle's Thermal Protection System Facility suffered extensive damage. The roof was partially torn off and the interior suffered water damage. Several rockets on display in the center were toppled.[11] Further damage to KSC was caused by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005.

KSC directors
Dr. Kurt Debus, first director of KSC

Since KSC's formation, ten NASA officials have served as directors, including three former astronauts (Crippen, Bridges and Cabana):
Name Start End Reference
Dr. Kurt H. Debus July 1962 November 1974 [12]
Lee R. Scherer January 19, 1975 September 2, 1979 [13]
Richard G. Smith September 26, 1979 August 2, 1986 [14]
Forrest S. McCartney August 31, 1987 December 31, 1991 [15]
Robert L. Crippen January 1992 January 1995 [16]
Jay F. Honeycutt January 1995 March 2, 1997 [17]
Roy D. Bridges, Jr. March 2, 1997 August 9, 2003 [18]
James W. Kennedy August 9, 2003 January 2007 [19]
William W. Parsons January 2007 October 2008 [20]
Robert D. Cabana October 2008 Present [21]

Visitor Complex
Main article: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Gate to the KSC Visitor Complex in 2006; Explorer, a mock-up of the Space Shuttle, is in the background.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, operated by Delaware North Companies since 1995, has a variety of exhibits, artifacts, displays and attractions on the history and future of human and robotic spaceflight. Bus tours of the Kennedy Space Center originate from here. The complex also includes the separate Apollo/Saturn V Center, and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame six miles west near Titusville. There were 1.5 million visitors in 2009. It had some 700 employees.[22]

KSC facilities on the National Register of Historic Places

Facilities on the National Register of Historic Places include:

* Central Instrumentation Facility
* Crawlerway
* Headquarters Building
* Launch Complex 39
* Launch Complex 39–Pad A
* Launch Complex 39–Pad B
* Launch Control Center
* Missile Crawler Transporter Facilities
* Operations and Checkout Building
* Press Site–Clock and Flag Pole
* Vehicle Assembly Building–High Bay and Low Bay

See also

* List of Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island launch sites
* List of Apollo missions
* List of space shuttle missions
* Mobile Launcher Platform
o Mobile Launcher Platform 1
o Mobile Launcher Platform 2
o Mobile Launcher Platform 3
* NASA Causeway
* NASA Railroad
* Astronaut beach house
* John F. Kennedy Space Center MPS
* United States Astronaut Hall of Fame
* Air Force Space & Missile Museum


1. ^ Kristie, JK "The Largest Buildings in the World"] (August 4, 2009)
2. ^ "Senate". Congressional Record: 17598. September 8, 2004.
3. ^ "Our view: Still spaced out". Florida Today, January 23, 2008.
4. ^ "Land, Lots of Land - Much of It Marshy". Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations. NASA. Retrieved Aug 27, 2009.
5. ^
6. ^ "The National Archives, Lyndon B. Johnson Executive Order 11129". Retrieved 26 April 2010.
7. ^ Block, Robert and Matthews, Mark K. (January 27, 2010) "White House won't fund NASA moon program". The Los Angeles Times
8. ^ Oliver, John E. (2005). Encyclopedia of world climatology. Springer. pp. 452. ISBN 9781402032646.
9. ^ "Lightning: FAQ". UCAR Communications. University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
10. ^ KSC - Lightning and the Space Program retrieved May 28, 2008
11. ^ "NASA Assesses Hurricane Frances Damage". NASA Press Release.
12. ^ NASA - Biography of Dr. Kurt H. Debus
13. ^ NASA - Biography of Lee R. Scherer
14. ^ NASA - Biography of Richard G. Smith
15. ^ NASA - Biography of Forrest S. McCartney
16. ^ NASA - Biography of Robert L. Crippen
17. ^ NASA - Biography of Jay F. Honeycutt
18. ^ NASA - Biography of Roy Bridges
19. ^ NASA - NASA KSC Director Announces Retirement
20. ^ NASA - Biography of William W. (Bill) Parsons
21. ^ NASA (2008-09-30). "Cabana to Succeed Parsons as Kennedy Space Center Director". Press release. Retrieved 2008-09-30.
22. ^ Stratford, Amanda (12 January 2010). "NASA's new image". Florida Today (Melbourne, Florida: Florida Today): pp. 1A.


* Benson, Charles D.; Faherty, William Barnaby (1978). Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations. Scientific and Technical Information Office, NASA. .
* Reynolds, David West (September 2006). Kennedy Space Center: Gateway to Space. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books. ISBN 978-1554070398. Retrieved January 30, 2010.

This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

External links

* Kennedy Space Center Web site
* KSC Visitor Complex Web site
* Streaming audio of KSC radio communications
* Astronauts Memorial Foundation Web site
* John F. Kennedy Space Center from Encyclopedia Astronautica
* Cape Canaveral travel guide from Wikitravel
* "America's Space Program: Exploring a New Frontier", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan
* "Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms", a National Park Service Discover Our Shared Heritage travel itinerary
* A Field Guide to American Spacecraft

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