For the first time in the 50-year history of Kennedy Space Center, on Friday 20th July NASA began allowing public visitors to tour one of the launch pads from which the space shuttles and Apollo Saturn V moon rockets were launched. The KSC Up-Close: Launch Pad Tour, the latest to open of three special Kennedy Space Center 50th anniversary rare-access tours, takes visitors from Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex inside the highly secure Launch Complex 39.
Guided by a knowledgeable space expert, visitors travel nearly a quarter-mile inside the perimeter security fence to Launch Pad 39-A, from which a majority of space shuttles and all six Apollo missions that landed on the moon were launched. Near the launch pad, visitors exit the tour bus for photo opportunities, including close views of the 350-foot-high fixed service structure, rotating service structure, propellant storage containers, water tanks that feed the noise suppression system, flame trench and other aspects of the launch pad complex.
“Visitors travel the same route as astronauts to the launch pad, so they can imagine being an astronaut,” said Bill Moore, KSCVC Chief Operating Officer. “You’re going to be close to where history has been made and will be made in the future with new programmes currently under development for space exploration.”
“The launch pad is the last place that I was on Earth before reaching the heavens,” said former space shuttle astronaut Jon McBride. “You can walk in my shoes.”
The tour then drives by for views of Launch Pad 39-B, site of launches for the Saturn 1B/Skylab missions and of many space shuttle launches. It is now being modernised for launching NASA’s new Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket for future missions to carry astronauts in the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle into deep space. NASA is also preparing Kennedy Space Center to accommodate commercial spacecraft and launch vehicles.
The Launch Pad Tour will run through the end of 2012 with a limited number of daily tours. NASA and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex previously opened two other behind-the-scenes tours scheduled to run through year’s end.
One tour, launched in June, takes visitors inside NASA’s Launch Control Center (LCC), where directors and engineers supervised all space shuttle and Apollo missions and will oversee future space missions.
The other tour, which began in November, takes visitors inside the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the massive building in which the Apollo Saturn V rockets and space shuttles were assembled. The shuttle Atlantis can currently be seen in the VAB, with guests having a good chance of getting an up-close view of a space shuttle through October.
Visitors have not had access inside the VAB or LCC since the 1970s, during the period after the Apollo and Skylab programmes ended and before the first space shuttle launch in 1981.
“These are all very rare opportunities that NASA has worked with us to provide to our visitors from Florida, across the United States and overseas,” Moore said. “With exciting new space exploration programmes coming to Kennedy Space Center, we may never have access to such historic places like this again.”
The Launch Pad Tour also includes drive-by views of the VAB, the mobile launch platform and one of the crawler transporters that was used to move Apollo rockets and shuttles to the launch pads and is now being updated to move the Space Launch System rocket. The tour culminates at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Price is $25 for adults and $19 for children ages 3-11 plus tax, in addition to general admission price.
In celebration of Kennedy Space Center’s 50th anniversary, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is offering two special offers with a savings up to 30% on admission, food and merchandise, as well as secure access to view rocket launches.