NASA: Vehicle Assembly Building

One of the most amazing structures in the world is the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Known as the VAB for short, it is a national landmark that remains central to NASA’s space exploration programme.

It’s the only building where rockets have been assembled that have carried people to the surface of another planet. The building was the final assembly point for the space shuttle for 30 years. The orbiter was attached to the solid rocket boosters and the external fuel tank at the VAB for the launch.

NASA building

© Albo / Adobe Stock

Completed in 1966, the building was used to assemble the largest rocket ever made, the Apollo Saturn V moon rocket. The Saturn V dwarfed every other rocket that had gone before it, in terms of size and payload. When the Apollo spacecraft was standing on top, it was an amazing 363 feet tall. Even without its fins, it was 33 feet across and a true giant among rockets.

 

World’s biggest doors

The VAB is 3.5 miles and 4.2 miles from launch pads 39A and 39B respectively. It is a miracle of modern engineering that the completed rockets can be transported to the launch pad. Gigantic lifting devices have to be used to move the rockets, in the shape of two 250-ton bridge cranes and 71 additional cranes.

The next hurdle is getting the rockets out of the VAB. This is achieved via the bay’s doors – which are the tallest in the world!

There are four extremely high bay doors in total. Each is a massive 456 ft high and it takes around 45 minutes to fully open or close them. To put their immense size into perspective, the Statue of Liberty could fit through the famous grey doors standing up. It stands 305 feet tall, including the pedestal and foundations, so it would be dwarfed by the bay doors!

 

Giant transporters

The north entrance to the transfer aisle had to be widened to 40 ft to ensure the orbiter would fit through. A pair of crawler-transporters are used to move the rockets to the launch pad. These are some of the largest machines ever created to move across the land. They actually enter the VAB through the over-sized doors and transport the rockets outside before heading off for the launch pad.

The building has a penchant for all things tall. As well as having the world’s tallest doors, it is also home to the largest American flag. The enormous star-spangled banner stands 209 ft tall and is 110 ft wide. Painted on the side of the building, each stripe measures 9 ft wide and is the same size as the tour bus which transports visitors around the Kennedy Space Centre!

 

Modern refurbishment

The VAB is still a central hub for NASA’s main spaceport. The building is moving forward to comply with the demands of modern technology and will host several different types of spacecraft and rockets simultaneously in future.

The different craft will be sent into deep space, or will go into the earth’s orbit, depending on their design. Whatever their purpose, the VAB has the infrastructure to properly prepare them for their mission.

Craft being prepared at the VAB include NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), a rocket and spacecraft based on the original Apollo Saturn V. The SLS will use technology derived from the space shuttle, but it will be significantly larger than the previous 1960s Saturn V. The Orion spacecraft sitting on top of the rocket is also bigger than its predecessor.

Extensive refurbishment of the space exploration facility is being led by the Ground Systems Development and Operations Programme. The modernisation will create a more flexible setting inside the building.

Here at Automatic Access, we don’t claim to make the biggest doors in the world, but you would be hard-pressed to find any that are better quality! We supply and install automatic door systems that are compliant with current disability legislation, making all kinds of buildings fully accessible for all.

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