3:33 pm Launch Week Update: Pad 39A

We’re exactly 48 hours away from the launch! That launch will take place on the historic launch pad 39A.

Few places on earth are as unique and intriguing as launch pad 39A. I’ll never forget my first visit to this place. It was when I was invited to see the GOES-17 weather satellite in its holding facility in January of 2018. I purchased a ticket at the Kennedy Space Center for a bus tour that went to all the launch sites. I remember the bus pulling up to pad 39A and thinking how crazy cool it would be to walk on that pad.

Then….

When I was there for my first NASA Social a little over a year later, one of the first things on the agenda was getting to walk on pad 39A! I thought I would faint.

So, what’s the big deal about this humongous slab of concrete? Well, it’s our gateway to space! It’s where Apollo flew us to the Moon. It’s where space shuttles set off for space. If aliens wanted to stop us from space traveling, pad 39A would be first on their targets to destroy! (haha)

The pad itself is 3,000 feet across and nearly 50 feet tall! It was constructed in the 1960s for the purpose of launches that would take humans to the Moon. The view from atop the pad is actually quite nice.

The first launch from the pad was an uncrewed Saturn V rocket on November 9, 1967. That massive rocket, the most powerful to date, would be the one to take us to the Moon. Just a little over a year later, the first crewed rocket launch would take place there. That mission’s intent was to orbit the moon and then return to Earth. It was a success!

And then……

July 16, 1969….man left this Earth with the intent of stepping onto the Moon’s surface. Man, was that a step! For the first time in human history, man left his home planet and stepped onto another planetary body! Imagine opening the hatch on that vehicle and stepping onto the dusty surface of the Moon. I just can’t.

The last Saturn V rocket to be launched on pad 39A took Slylab up into orbit. Skylab was our first US space station. That launch took place on May 14, 1973. In all, there were a dozen Saturn V rocket launches from this pad.

Later on, the pad would be modified to suit space shuttle launches.

Pictured below is the Columbia space shuttle on the launch pad, preparing to be the first space shuttle launched into space.

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After the first two shuttle missions, the external fuel tank would be a rusty red color. That’s the huge fuel tank you see strapped to the belly of the shuttle in the photo above. They painted it white to keep it cooler in the sunlight. It was later determined that the cooling effect of white paint was unnecessary. Plus, painting that huge tank added 600 pounds of paint! They decided it would be better to have that extra weight for extra payload or performance. Thus, from then on the tank would be the rust color of its insulating foam.

On July 8, 2011 the last space shuttle launched from pad 39A. It would mark the beginning of the end of human spaceflight from American soil….at least for some time. This marked the 82nd space shuttle to launch from this pad.

And now…..

We’re back! After being modified by SpaceX, the pad is once again ready to send astronauts to space from American soil. The wait has been too long but here we are! This week!

Pictured below is a diagram of pad 39A. I’ll point out some major features. The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is at the top of the picture. Next, you’ll see the Crawlerway along the left of the picture. That’s where rockets that are going to launch roll out and along on their way to the launch pad (at a whopping 3-4 mph. These things are heavy!). They roll across Tennessee River rock because it’s the only rock they’ve found that doesn’t make sparks. Notice the flame trench. That’s literally where the flames are directed down and out and away from whatever is launching from the pad. The Holding pond (lower right) is for the 300,000 gallons of water used during launches. The water is used to suppress sound, keeping sound waves from destroying the launch vehicle. All the water is released in only 41 seconds.

Aerial view of launch pad apollo era corrected annotation

Incidentally, there are two other pads associated with launch complex 39. Launch pad 39B is being modified for the Artemis missions that will take us to the Moon. Pad 39C is for smaller craft. Only pad 39A is leased by SpaceX.

On Wednesday, God willing, two astronauts will be taken to launch pad 39A to leave a virus-ridden planet for the International Space Station. We wish them all the success in the world!

I could talk all day about this launch pad but you’d be reading this for the next hour or so (ha). I do hope I’ve peaked your interest, though.

If you get a chance to visit Kennedy Space Center be sure and get the bus tour of the pads. When you get to 39A just crawl out the bus window and run for the pad! It’s worth getting arrested for. LOL Also, you never read this paragraph.

Seriously, we wish these astronauts Godspeed and an enjoyable ride on DEMO-2.

Tune in tonight when I give you a LAUNCH WEEK update on the Veggie Lab I had the opportunity to tour during my DEMO-1 NASA Social! I’ve got some cool stuff to share!

Pictured below is DEMO-2, standing as proud as can be atop Launch Pad 39A on this Memorial Day. What a sight…..what a sight….

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2 thoughts on “3:33 pm Launch Week Update: Pad 39A

  1. Mark, this is so exciting for me! I’ve been a space fan since I was a little girl. Watched all the missions from Mercury to and including the shuttles. My grandpa and I never left the tv until they lifted off and again when they touched down. Great memories. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful childhood memory. I always dreamed of getting to go to outer space.

    Liked by 1 person

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