784px-Kennedy Space Center Headquarters

J. F. K space center

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The John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is the NASA installation that has been the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968. Although such flights are currently on hiatus, KSC continues to manage and operate unmanned rocket launch facilities for America's civilian space program from three pads at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Its iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) is the fourth-largest structure in the world by volume[2] and was the largest when completed in 1965.[3]

Located on Merritt Island, Florida, the center is north-northwest of Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean, midway between Miami and Jacksonville on Florida's Space Coast. It is 34 miles (55 km) long and roughly 6 miles (10 km) wide, covering 219 square miles (570 km2). A total of 13,100 people worked at the center as of 2011. Approximately 2,100 are employees of the federal government; the rest are contractors.[4] [1][2]STS-60 shuttle launch from Pad 39A on February 3, 1994Since December 1968, all launch operations have been conducted from Pads A and B at Launch Complex 39 (LC-39). Both pads are on the ocean, 3 miles (5 km) east of the VAB. From 1969–1972, LC-39 was the departure point for all six Apollo manned Moon landing missions using the Saturn V, the largest and most powerful operational launch vehicle in history, and was used from 1981–2011 for all Space Shuttle launches. The Shuttle Landing Facility, located just to the north, was used for most Shuttle landings and is among the longest runways in the world.

The KSC Industrial Area, where many of the center's support facilities are located, is 5 miles (8 km) south of LC-39. It includes the Headquarters Building, the Operations and Checkout Building and the Central Instrumentation Facility. KSC was also home to the Merritt Island Spaceflight Tracking and Data Network station (MILA), a key radio communications and spacecraft tracking complex. The center operates its own short-line railroad.

KSC is a major central Florida tourist destination and is approximately one hour's drive from the Orlando area. The Visitor Complex offers public tours of the center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Because much of the installation is a restricted area and only nine percent of the land is developed, the site also serves as an important wildlife sanctuary; Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore are other features of the area. Center workers can encounter Bald Eagles, American alligators, wild boars, Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes, Florida panthers and Florida manatees. KSC is one of ten major NASA field centers, and has several facilities listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Kennedy Space Center was created and has evolved to meet the changing needs of America's manned space program, initially in competition with the Soviet Union. What is today KSC was authorized in 1958 during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The facility was originally known as the Launch Operations Directorate (LOD), reporting to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.


President John F. Kennedy's 1961 goal of a lunar landing before 1970 led to an expansion of NASA operations from a few buildings in the Industrial Area of Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex (later Cape Canaveral Air Force Station), notably Hangar S, to Merritt Island. NASA began land acquisition in 1962, buying title to 131 square miles (340 km2) and negotiating with the state of Florida for an additional 87 square miles (230 km2).[5] The major buildings in KSC's Industrial Area were designed by architect Charles Luckman.[6]

On July 1, 1962, the site was renamed the Launch Operations Center, achieving equal status with other NASA centers; and on November 29, 1963, the facility received its current name by Executive Order 11129 following Kennedy's death.[7]

Mercury and GeminiEdit

Main articles: Project Mercury and Project Gemini The U.S. accomplished a manned lunar landing in three stages—Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. Mercury's objectives were to place a manned spacecraft in earth orbit, investigate human performance and ability to function in space, and safely recover the astronaut and spacecraft. Although Mercury was directed by NASA, launches were from the U.S. Air Force's Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex. The first two manned tests used the Redstone booster from LC-5 for the 1961 suborbital flights of Alan Shepard on May 5 (the first American in space) and Gus Grissom on July 21. The first American in orbit, and the first carried by the larger Atlas D rocket, was John Glenn, launched from LC-14 on February 20, 1962. Three more orbital flights followed.

The more complex two-man Gemini spacecraft, and its Titan II booster, based on the military ICBM, helped carry out rendezvous and docking and extra-vehicular activity missions critical for Apollo. Twelve Gemini missions were launched from Cape Canaveral's LC-19, the last ten of which were manned. The first manned flight, Gemini 3, took place on March 23, 1965. The final flight, Gemini 12, launched on November 11, 1966.


Main articles: Apollo program and List of Apollo missions[3][4] A Saturn V carrying Apollo 15 rolls out to Pad 39A in 1971 on Mobile Launch Platform 1.The Apollo program required larger launchers—the Saturn family of boosters. The two-stage Saturn I and IB rockets were erected and launched at the Cape's Launch Complexes 34 and 37. The first Saturn launch, SA-1, came on October 27, 1961 from LC-34. On January 27, 1967, the crew for the first planned manned Apollo mission, AS-204 (also designated Apollo 1), Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died by fire on the same pad atop a Saturn IB; the first spacecraft-related astronaut deaths. After significant changes to the spacecraft, Apollo 7 was launched from LC-34 into earth orbit using a Saturn IB on October 11, 1968.

Launch Complex 39Edit

Main article: Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39[5][6] The VAB (center) in 1999 with the LCC jutting out from its right and Pads A and B in the distanceMissions to the Moon required the large three-stage Saturn V rocket (111 m high and 10 m in diameter). At KSC, Launch Complex 39 (LC-39) was built on Merritt Island to accommodate the new rocket. Construction of the $800 million project began in November 1962. LC-39 pads A and B were completed by October 1965 (a planned Pad C was canceled), the VAB was completed in June 1965, and the infrastructure by late 1966. The complex included a hangar capable of holding four Saturn Vs, the VAB (130 million ft³); a transporter capable of carrying 5,440 tons along a crawlerway to either of two launch pads; and a 446-foot (136 m) mobile service structure. Three Mobile Launcher Platforms, each with a fixed launch umbilical tower, were also built. LC-39 also includes the Launch Control Center and a news media site.

From 1967 through 1973, there were 13 Saturn V lift-offs, including the ten remaining Apollo missions after Apollo 7. The first of three unmanned flights, Apollo 4 (Apollo-Saturn 501) on November 9, 1967, was also the first rocket launch from KSC itself. The Saturn V's first manned launch on December 21, 1968 was Apollo 8's lunar orbiting mission. The next two missions tested the Lunar Module: Apollo 9 (earth orbit) and Apollo 10 (lunar orbit). Apollo 11, launched from Pad A on July 16, 1969, made the first Moon landing on July 20. Apollo 12 followed four months later.


From 1970–1972, the Apollo program concluded at KSC with the launches of missions 13 through 17. On May 14, 1973, the last Saturn V launch put the Skylab space station in orbit from Pad 39A. Pad B, modified for Saturn IBs, was used to launch three manned missions to Skylab that year, as well as the final Apollo spacecraft for the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project in 1975.

In 1976, the VAB's south parking area was the site of Third Century America, a science and technology display commemorating the U.S. Bicentennial, also when the U.S. flag was painted on the building. During the late 1970s, LC-39 was reconfigured to support the Space Shuttle. Two Orbiter Processing Facilities were built near the VAB as hangars with a third added in the 1980s.

1980s–2000s: Space ShuttleEdit

Main articles: Space Shuttle program and List of space shuttle missions KSC became the launch site for the Space Shuttle program beginning in 1981. The initial launch, Columbia on April 12, 1981, was the first of a vehicle with astronauts aboard which had no prior unmanned launch. [7][8]Shuttle Atlantis is moved to Pad 39A for the 1990 launch of STS-36.KSC's 2.9 mile (4.6 km) Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) was the orbiters' primary end-of-mission landing site, although the first KSC landing did not take place until the tenth flight, when Challenger completed STS-41-B on February 11, 1984; the primary landing site until then was Edwards Air Force Base in California, subsequently used as a backup landing site. The SLF also provided a return-to-launch-site (RTLS) abort option, which was not utilized.

After 24 successful shuttle flights, Challenger was torn apart 73 seconds after the launch of STS-51-L on January 28, 1986; the first shuttle launch from Pad 39B and the first U.S. manned launch failure, killing the seven crew members. An O-ring seal in the right booster rocket failed at liftoff, leading to subsequent structural failures. Flights resumed on September 29, 1988 with STS-26 after extensive modifications to many aspects of the shuttle program.

On February 1, 2003, Columbia and her crew of seven were lost during re-entry over Texas during the STS-107 mission (the 113th shuttle flight); a vehicle breakup triggered by damage sustained during launch from Pad 39A on January 16, when a piece of foam insulation from the orbiter's external fuel tank struck the orbiter's left wing. During reentry, the damage created a hole allowing hot gases to melt the wing structure. Like the Challenger disaster, the resulting investigation and modifications interrupted shuttle flight operations at KSC for more than two years until the STS-114 launch on July 26, 2005.

The shuttle program experienced five main engine shutdowns at LC-39, all within four seconds or less before launch; and one abort to orbit, STS-51-F on July 29, 1985. Shuttle missions during nearly 30 years of operations included deploying satellites and interplanetary probes, conducting space science and technology experiments, visits to the Russian MIR space station, construction and servicing of the International Space Station, deployment and servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope and serving as a space laboratory. The shuttle was retired from service in July 2011 after 135 launches.

On October 28, 2009, the Ares I-X launch from Pad 39B was the first unmanned launch from KSC since the Skylab workshop in 1973.


The end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 produced a significant downsizing of the KSC workforce similar to that experienced at the end of the Apollo program in 1972; NASA is currently designing the next heavy launch vehicle for continuation of human spaceflight. Pad 39A has been left in its space shuttle launch configuration; Pad B has been dismantled to its base.

Unmanned NASA launches at Cape CanaveralEdit

[9][10] Pioneer 1 atop its launcherNASA's first launch, Pioneer 1, came on October 11, 1958 from Cape Canaveral's LC-17A using a Thor-Able booster. The civilian agency has used launch pads at Cape Canaveral AFS ever since for many unmanned launches ranging from satellites to lunar probes, including the Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter programs during the 1960s.

NASA has also launched communications and weather satellites from Launch Complexes 40 and 41, built at the north end of the Cape in 1964 by the Air Force for its Titan IIIC and Titan IV rockets. From 1974–1977 the powerful Titan IIIE served as the heavy-lift vehicle for NASA, launching the Viking and Voyager series of planetary spacecraft and the Cassini–Huygens Saturn probe from LC-41.

NASA currently uses three Cape Canaveral pads: SLC-41 for the Atlas V and SLC-37B for the Delta IV, both for heavy payloads; and SLC-17B for Delta II launches.

Launch Services Program (LSP) is responsible for NASA oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches at Cape Canaveral.


[11][12] A Mercury Redstone rocket on display at Gate 3 was toppled by Hurricane Frances on September 7, 2004.Florida's peninsular shape and temperature contrasts between land and ocean provide ideal conditions for electrical storms, earning Central Florida the reputation as "lightning capital of the United States".[8][9] This makes extensive lightning protection and detection systems necessary to protect employees, structures and spacecraft on launch pads safe.[10] On November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 was struck by lightning just after lift-off from Pad 39A, but the flight continued safely. The most powerful lightning strike recorded at KSC occurred at LC-39B on August 25, 2006 while shuttle Atlantis was being prepared for STS-115. NASA managers were initially concerned that the lightning strike caused damage to Atlantis, but none was found.

In October 2004, Hurricane Charley caused an estimated $700,000 in damage to KSC. On September 7, 2004, Hurricane Frances directly hit the area with sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) and gusts up to 94 miles per hour (151 km/h), the most damaging storm to date. The Vehicle Assembly Building lost 1,000 exterior panels, each 3.9 feet (1.2 m) x 9.8 feet (3.0 m) in size. This exposed 39,800 sq ft (3,700 m2) of the building to the elements. Damage occurred to the south and east sides of the VAB. The shuttle's Thermal Protection System Facility suffered extensive damage. The roof was partially torn off and the interior suffered water damage. Several rockets on display in the center were toppled.[11] Further damage to KSC was caused by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005.

KSC directorsEdit

[13][14] Dr. Kurt Debus, first director of KSCSince KSC's formation, ten NASA officials have served as directors, including three former astronauts (Crippen, Bridges and Cabana):

Name Start End Reference
Dr. Kurt H. Debus July 1962 November 1974 [12]
Lee R. Scherer January 19, 1975 September 2, 1979 [13]
Richard G. Smith September 26, 1979 August 2, 1986 [14]
Forrest S. McCartney August 31, 1987 December 31, 1991 [15]
Robert L. Crippen January 1992 January 1995 [16]
Jay F. Honeycutt January 1995 March 2, 1997 [17]
Roy D. Bridges, Jr. March 2, 1997 August 9, 2003 [18]
James W. Kennedy August 9, 2003 January 2007 [19]
William W. Parsons January 2007 October 2008 [20]
Robert D. Cabana October 2008 present [21]

Labor forceEdit

A total of 13,100 people worked at the center as of 2011. Approximately 2,100 are employees of the federal government; the rest are contractors.[4] The average annual salary for an on-site worker in 2008 was $77,235.[22]

Visitor ComplexEdit

Main article: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex[15][16] Gate to the KSC Visitor Complex in 2006; Explorer, a Space Shuttle mock-up, is in the backgroundThe Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, operated by Delaware North since 1995, has a variety of exhibits, artifacts, displays and attractions on the history and future of human and robotic spaceflight. Bus tours of KSC originate from here. The complex also includes the separate Apollo/Saturn V Center, north of the VAB and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, six miles west near Titusville. There were 1.5 million visitors in 2009. It had some 700 employees.[23]

KSC facilities on the National Register of Historic PlacesEdit

Main article: John F. Kennedy Space Center MPS Facilities on the National Register of Historic Places include:

  • Central Instrumentation Facility
  • Crawlerway
  • Headquarters Building
  • Launch Complex 39
  • Launch Complex 39–Pad A
  • Launch Complex 39–Pad B
  • Launch Control Center
  • Missile Crawler Transporter Facilities
  • Operations and Checkout Building
  • Press Site–Clock and Flag Pole
  • Vehicle Assembly Building–High Bay and Low Bay

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