KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (Nov. 4, 2011) – For more than 30 years, tour buses have driven guests past the 525-foot tall Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, at Kennedy Space Center, pointing out the massive building in which Apollo V rockets, and later, space shuttles, were assembled for launch. But only a select few, including astronauts, NASA officials and space center personnel, have ever had the opportunity to go inside the building – until now.
For the first time since 1978, guests at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will have the chance to disembark their tour buses and tour inside the VAB to see firsthand where monstrous vehicles were assembled for launch, from the very first Saturn V rocket in the late 1960s to the very last space shuttle, STS-135 Atlantis, earlier this year.
The opportunity to visit the VAB will be offered for a limited time to a limited number of Visitor Complex guests per day as part of KSC Up-Close, a new two-hour, guided special interest tour.* Beginning Nov. 1, the tour will be offered eight times daily for $25 for adults and $19 for children ages 3-11, plus the cost of admission which is $43 + tax for adults and $33 + tax for children ages 3-11.
Making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity even more special, for a very limited time, guests on the KSC Up-Close tour may see a space shuttle orbiter inside the VAB as they are being prepared for display in their new homes in Los Angeles, Calif., Washington, D.C. and Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Fla.**
While inside the VAB, guests will be able to walk along the edge of the Transfer Aisle, which is kept open to move behemoth elements of rockets among the four High Bays within the building. Tour communicators will provide a brief overview of the VAB and the work done there.
Meanwhile, plenty of colorful signage depicts the incredible engineering feats that have taken place behind these 456-foot-tall high bay doors, such as the work of the VAB’s two 325-ton bridge cranes that were used to lift the shuttle orbiters and mate them to their external tank and solid rocket boosters with pinpoint accuracy. Signage also shows prospective operations that will take place within the VAB for NASA’s newest space exploration program, Space Launch System, or SLS. Banners signed by thousands of KSC workers showing support for each of the space shuttle missions proudly remain on display throughout the VAB.
The VAB tour stop is just one part of the two-hour guided KSC Up-Close tour. During the first portion of the tour, guests will have the opportunity to view Kennedy Space Center landmarks including NASA’s KSC Headquarters, office of Center Director and four-time shuttle astronaut, Robert Cabana, and various KSC staff; and the Operations & Checkout building (O&C), which serves as the astronaut crew quarters prior to each launch and where science modules and trusses for the International Space Station (ISS) were tested before flight. This is also the site at which astronauts boarded the Astrovan to ride to the launch pads. The tour also passes by the Space Station Processing Facilities (SSPF), where hardware and components of the ISS were processed and tested before flight.
Next, guests may disembark at the NASA Causeway for a panoramic view of the Banana River, Port Canaveral and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, home of the first rocket launches of the Mercury and Gemini programs. Guests will be able to spot launch pads 17, 37, 40, and 41, which are still used today for commercial and government launches today. They may even spot a rocket on the pad or inside its mobile service structure. From this scenic vantage point, guests may also see Liberty Star and Freedom Star, the two recovery ships used to retrieve the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters from the Atlantic Ocean after they were jettisoned during launch.
The tour then travels into the heart of Kennedy Space Center, where guests will pass by the three Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs), the hangars where shuttle orbiters were processed and maintained between flights. Today, the OPFs are being used to decommission the orbiters in preparation for their retirement, including Atlantis, which will be displayed in a brand new $100 million facility at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in 2013.
Following a stop inside the VAB, guests will re-board their bus for views of the massive Crawler Transporters and “Crawlerway,” the equivalent of an eight-lane highway lined with river rock and designed to support the crushing weight of the Saturn V and space shuttles along with their mobile launch platforms. They’ll also get a view of the Solid Rocket Booster Storage Areas; the Pegasus barge used to haul the shuttle’s orange External Fuel Tanks from their birthplace in Louisiana; Press Site and the famous blue countdown clock; as well as the Mate/Demate Device at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF), where orbiters were unloaded from Boeing 747s after an occasional cross-country piggyback ride.
Guests will disembark a final time at Camera Stop A/B – one of the hilltop sites from which NASA remotely shoots launch photography and videography. With Launch Pads 39A and B on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, guests will have even more opportunities to snap the photos of a lifetime. Tour guides will point out the modifications to pad 39B, which has been stripped of all vertical structure to make way for the launch of a variety of rockets, commercial or Space Launch System (SLS). Pad 39A remains unmodified, so guests can see where every manned mission to the moon and many of the space shuttle missions originated.
Along the way, tour guests can’t help but spot the plentiful wildlife who make their home in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, including dolphins, manatees, alligators, pelicans, herons, egrets, and bald eagles, among many others. Nearly 550 species of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles call the 140,000 acre (57,000 hectare) refuge home.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex also offers the special interest tour, Cape Canaveral: Then & Now, highlighting America’s first launches of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Guests will visit the Air Force Space & Missile Museum, and see the launch complex where Alan Shephard lifted off to become the first American in space, Pad 34, the site of the tragic Apollo 1 fire, as well as active launch pads used for commercial and government rocket launches.
To book the KSC Up-Close special interest tour, visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com or call 866-737-5235. Due to the anticipated popularity of the tour, reservations are strongly suggested.
* Guests should note that the VAB tour stop is not a part of the regular KSC bus tour which is included with admission. Availability of the KSC Up-Close tour is based on space flight operations and is subject to change without notice.
**The opportunity to see a space shuttle in the VAB is available for a very limited time and is subject to change without notice.
About Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex opens at 9 a.m. Closing times vary by season. The Visitor Complex is open daily except December 25 and certain launch days. Admission includes the Kennedy Space Center Tour, Shuttle Launch Experience, 3D IMAX® space films, Astronaut Encounter, STAR TREKTM LIVE, Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted and all exhibits. Admission also includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame®, featuring historic spacecraft and the world's largest collection of personal astronaut memorabilia, open from noon until 6:00 p.m. daily. Parking, wheelchairs, strollers and pet kennels are free of charge. Admission is $43 + tax for adults and $33 + tax for children ages 3-11. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Commander's Club Annual Pass is $56 + tax for adults and $46 + tax for children ages 3-11. For more information, call 877-313-2610 or visit www.KennedySpaceCenter.com.