Spaceflight Insider

The Hangar / Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center Photo

Photo Credit: Michael Deep / SpaceFlight Insider


Kennedy Space Center (KSC) occupies the northern two-thirds of Merritt Island on Florida’s East coast, immediately north of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). CCAFS is connected to KSC by a thin strip of land on its northern periphery and by the NASA Causeway to the West.


Kennedy Space Center was created when NASA needed more land than CCAFS was capable of providing for the launch of its lunar missions. At the time, NASA believed it would need a large vehicle with three to eight F-1 main engines in its first stage. The blast danger if these launches went wrong required large areas of isolation from other facilities, and CCAFS could not accommodate these requirements.

After a short study period, NASA committed to a launch site on Merritt Island, just north of Cape Canaveral. NASA began purchasing the land in 1962 and finished in 1964.

Construction of the facilities needed to support the lunar landing began after careful study to determine the best method to support the vehicles that would launch the spacecraft. The launch vehicles required for this effort would dwarf all those that had come before them and they created challenges that had not yet been encountered by engineers.

To support the enormous vehicles, NASA decided to adopt a mobile launch concept. Up until that time, launch vehicles had been assembled on the launch pad and then launched after a potentially lengthy stay there. NASA wanted to assemble the huge Saturn vehicle inside a protected building, then move it to the launch pad, where it would remain only a short time before launching. This way, the assembly facilities would be protected from any launch mishaps, the launch pad would not be occupied for too long, and the launch vehicle would spend most of its time protected from the elements. The only question that remained for NASA was how to get the enormous Saturn from its assembly facility to its pad.

Rail transport was dismissed early on. The weight of the Saturn and its mobile launch platform were too much for conventional rail systems. A canal system became the logical choice, until Berry Schlenk, from the Bucyrus-Erie Company, told NASA about a crawler-steam-shovel vehicle that the company had built for a Kentucky coal mine. Further studies bore out the crawler idea, and NASA commissioned two such vehicles, especially after the studies revealed serious flaws in the canal designs.

The decision to use the crawler vehicles had a heavy influence on the design of KSC facilities. The assembly facility would be linked to the four planned launch pads by a special track for the crawlers. NASA eventually settled on the Saturn V for its lunar missions and constructed the Vertical Assembly Building and two launch pads for it. After the Apollo program ended, NASA modified the Vertical Assembly Building to accommodate its then new launch system – the Space Shuttle – and renamed the edifice as the Vehicle Assembly Building. The two launch pads, LC-39A and B, were also made to accommodate the Shuttle.

After the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA leased LC-39A to SpaceX and began modifying LC-39B as well as the VAB for the Space Launch System.

Launch Facilities

LC-39A (“Pad A”): The first of four planned launch pads for the Saturn V, Pad A is probably the most prestigious launch facility in the United States. This launch pad hosted the Apollo 4 test launch of the Saturn V on November 9, 1967; the first piloted Saturn V flight, Apollo 8, on December 21, 1968; the first lunar landing, Apollo 11, on July 16, 1969; the first Space Shuttle launch, on April 12, 1981; and the last Space Shuttle launch, on July 8, 2011. In 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease to operate Pad A for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. The first Falcon 9 launch from Pad A took place on February 19, 2017.

LC-39B (“Pad B”): The second and final launch pad constructed for the Saturn V, Pad B has supported fewer flights than Pad A, but has still played an important role. Pad B hosted the manned launches to Skylab, the STS-400 Launch On Need mission, and the Ares I-X test flight. Currently, Pad B is being modified to support the Space Launch System.

LC-39C: This launch pad was constructed in 2015 inside the perimeter of LC-39B to support small launches. As of this posting, no launches have taken place yet.

Support Facilities

Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB): Originally named the Vertical Assembly Building, the VAB was built to support the vertical stacking and integration of the Saturn V. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest building in Florida, and remains one of the largest interior volumes in the U.S. The VAB was also used to stack the modified Saturn V that launched the Skylab space station, and the special Saturn IB stack that launched crews to that station. After the Apollo program ended, the Vertical Assembly Building became the Vehicle Assembly Building and supported the Space Shuttle. Now that the Space Shuttle has retired, the VAB is being modified to support the Space Launch System. NASA is also seeking other potential users for the VAB.

Turn Basin: This basin, connected to the Intracoastal Waterway, was used by the barges that transported the Saturn S-IC stage for the Saturn V and the Space Shuttle External Tank from the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. The barges dropped off their cargoes, which were transported to the VAB, and the barges then turned around and departed KSC.

Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPF): Three Orbiter Processing Facilities were used to service the Space Shuttle after each flight. As the Shuttle program wound down, NASA began to lease the OPFs to Boeing. OPF-3 is dedicated to support the Starliner program, and OPFs 2 and 3 support the Air Force’s X-37B program.

Press Site: NASA’s mission to land people on the Moon attracted great public interest, and to make sure that Americans were informed about NASA’s work, a press center was created to support the many reporters that would come to KSC to help inform the public. The Press Site sits on the edge of the Turn Basin and just across from the VAB. Permanent structures for news organizations such as CBS, AP, Reuters, and Florida Today can be found on site. The Press Site also includes a countdown clock dating back to the Apollo program. Following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the clock was upgraded from a grid array of filament bulbs to a multicolor screen capable of displaying video.

The Crawlerway: When the behemoth Crawler-Transporter was chosen as the transport method for the Saturn V, a special roadway had to be constructed to support the vehicle and its cargo. Engineers expected the huge crawlers to crush any solid surface, so Alabama river rock was chosen as the surface material. Supply pipes and lines also run underneath and alongside the crawlerway.

Headquarters Building: An office building built to house the staff of KSC nearly fifty years ago. NASA has started construction of a new headquarters building nearby.

Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building: Originally constructed to support the Apollo missions, then modified to support the checkout of some Space Shuttle payloads, the newly renamed Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building now supports the final checkout and integration of the Orion capsule.

Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF): An extra-long runway built to support the landing of the Space Shuttle. Space Florida has since leased the SLF for private and commercial use. The Mate-Demate Device (MDD), a specialized structure and crane used to hoist the Space Shuttle on and off the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, was once adjacent to the SLF. It was demolished following the retirement of the Space Shuttle.

Other Facilities

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex: A visitor’s center and tourist attraction on NASA property, just outside KSC. It is operated by the Delaware North Company. The Visitor Complex is the current home of Space Shuttle Atlantis and hosts a “rocket garden” – an area displaying many historic launch vehicles.

Apollo/Saturn V Center: A part of the Visitor Complex located inside the KSC proper. It was built to display a surplus Saturn V rocket. The Center also hosts a museum for the Apollo program, and hosts visitors for launch viewing opportunities.

Exploration Park: A public-private partnership between NASA and private industry to encourage the growth of the space industry, located just outside KSC on Space Commerce Way. Current partners include OneWeb and Blue Origin.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: NASA eventually realized that its land purchases on Merritt Island were larger than it really required. It parted off much of the northern half of Merritt Island to the Department of the Interior to administer as a wildlife refuge. Today, the refuge is open to the public and hosts several attractions, including hiking trails, the Black Point Wildlife Drive, and the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. KSC and the refuge are also home to the endangered Florida Scrub Jay.

Notable Missions

Kennedy Space Center hosted all Saturn V launches, including Apollo 8 and 11, and all Space Shuttle launches. LC-39A now also hosts Falcon 9 launches.

Launch Operations

Active Launch Sites: LC-39A (Falcon 9)
Total Flights: 160 (as of June 25, 2017)
First Orbital Flight: Apollo 4