The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex introduced a new stop in their Up-Close Tour this week. The new stop is the VAB, or Vehicle Assembly Building, where components of the Space Shuttle were joined together in preparation for launch.
The three shuttle orbiters are being prepared for display in museums. Endeavour is currently in storage in the VAB, while Discovery and Atlantis are being prepared in two of the Orbiter Processing Facilities. Up-Close Tour guests can currently see Endeavour in storage inside the VAB.
More photos from the new VAB tour stop in a moment …
The bus drives past one or both of the launch pads, depending on operations going on that day. This is pad 39A, where the first and last Space Shuttles launched. It is also the pad where Apollo 11 launched to the moon. Notice how pad 39A has the very familiar shuttle launch structures.
In July, the project was nearly complete. Only the fuel supply lines remained. This is actually close to how pad 39B looked for the Apollo program. The entire launch structure back then was on the mobile platform carried by a crawler-transporter between the VAB and the pad.
The VAB was once the biggest building in the world. Biggest by volume, at 130 million cu. ft. A Boeing aircraft plant is currently the biggest, with 472 million cu. ft. For scale, one of the Space Center tour buses is as wide as one of the stripes in the American flag. The VAB is 526 ft tall. For comparison, the Washington Monument (the tallest stone structure in the world) is 555 feet tall.
The Up-Close Tour takes you into the transfer aisle. It is the center corridor in which components of the shuttle entered and were hoisted to be joined in either of the bays on the east side of the building. The orbiter entered the transfer aisle from this doorway. The external tank and solid rocket booster sections entered at the opposite end. Note the differences in how sunlight enters through different materials.
The arrow points to where the external tank and solid rocket booster sections entered. Match the door materials seen here with the materials seen in the previous photo. Notice how the transfer aisle is longer that the tallest portion of the VAB. The transfer aisle actually extends from the main building.