Spaceflight Insider

Inside KSC: NASA’s historic VAB set for new era of human spaceflight

NASA_delta_iv_heavy_orion_eft1-jared_haworth SpaceFlight Insider

NASA is currently refurbishing the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center so the structure can meet the requirements of a new era of space exploration.
Photo Credit: Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — With their new super heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS ) booster set to take to the skies as soon as 2018, engineers are busy refurbishing the Vehicle Assembly Building for use with this new huge booster. Perhaps one of NASA’s more iconic structures, the VAB has been around since the late 1960s – as have the systems that were used in the building to stack launch vehicles and spacecraft since the Apollo Program. With the Space Agency transitioning from the Space Shuttle Program and toward the SLS, NASA is taking this opportunity to modernize the VAB – a fact highlighted by NASA’s Edsel Sanchez during a recent exclusive tour of the structure.

Contractors pull Apollo-era cabling from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building photo credit NASA

Miles of copper cabling was pulled from the Vehicle Assembly Building to prepare the structure for use on the Space Launch System. Photo Credit: NASA

“This is the first time that myself and others here at KSC have transitioned from one program to another,” said the VAB Site Project Manager Edsel Sanchez. “When we reviewed the systems that were in the VAB, we realized many would have to be completely replaced.”

This turned out to be an understatement with miles of copper wiring needing to be removed and new fiber-optic cables installed. NASA, like many government agencies, used these resources to its advantage.

“We allowed the contractors to keep the copper that they pulled out of the building. This helped to lower the overall cost of the upgrades,” Sanchez said.

Panels and platforms, some of which have been in place since the Apollo Program, others having only been around since the Space Shuttle Program (late 1970s), were removed or retrofitted to support the SLS.

These are just a few of the many changes that the historic structure is currently undergoing.

NASA Orion spacecraft Kennedy Space Center test article photo credit Jason Rhian SpaceFlight Insider

NASA is working to send crews to destinations such as an asteroid and the planet Mars using the SLS and the Orion spacecraft. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

The VAB is one of the largest buildings in the world, with the first booster emerging from its doors in 1967. While it still retains the record as the tallest single-story building on Earth, it is not the tallest building in the world – nor even within the State of Florida.

According to a NASA web page dedicated to the VAB: it covers 3.25 hectares (8 acres); it is 160 meters (525 ft) tall, 218 meters (716 ft) long, and 158 meters (518 ft) wide; and it encloses 3,664,883 cubic meters (129,428,000 cubic feet) of space.

To help put that in perspective, the Statue of Liberty is about 305 ft (93 meters) tall – the VAB stands approximately 220 feet above that. The structure was used to process not only the Saturn V  and Saturn 1B boosters for the Apollo, Skylab, and ASTP missions, but also all of the Space Shuttle orbiters (including Enterprise in 1979) that conducted the 135 missions during the Space Shuttle Program’s 30-year history and the Ares I-X rocket as well.

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider with elements provided by NASA



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Those of us who spent many days in the VAB on Apollo and Shuttle platforms that you are removing have mixed feelings – we’re sad to see what we created being scrapped, but also happy to see that you are creating better platforms that will support multiple vehicles in the future. The VAB is, in my mind, one of the wonders of the world. Any tour of the VAB is almost a religious experience – only to be topped by entering the Payload Clean Room (PCR) at the pad where we installed payloads in the Space Shuttle Orbiter’s payload bay. Any American who had the privilege to work at KSC and see what wonders were created that made it possible for us to first go to the moon, then later fly a vehicle that could be loaded with its payloads at the pad, then return to earth and land on a runway to be ready for processing for the next mission – those folks, which include me, are certain that we had the best job that life has to offer.

Here again another press release from NASA making it sound like they are going forward. In reality, NASA is dragging their feet on every move towards SLS.

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