Vehicle Assembly Building; Photo Credit: NASA

While this forum is typically told in a “third-party voice,” every once in a while, I share from a personal experience. Last week, I had the unique and awe-inspiring opportunity to visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Center located on Merritt Island in Florida. While the use of metal and steel is abundant throughout the entire center, I was particular struck by the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB — the iconic facility which serves as the central hub of NASA’s premier multi-user spaceport, capable of hosting several different kinds of rockets and spacecraft at the same time — and constructed from over 98,000 tons of steel!

The VAB’s frame is constructed from 98,590 tons of steel. It stands atop a support base of 4,225 steel pilings driven 164 feet into bedrock.

This iconic facility It is the ONLY facility where assembly of a rocket occurred that carried humans beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon. Whether the rockets and spacecraft are going into Earth orbit or being sent into deep space, the VAB has the infrastructure to prepare them for their missions. For the past 30 years, the VAB has also served as the final assembly point for space shuttles to external fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters.

The VAB was constructed for the assembly of the Apollo/Saturn V moon rocket, the largest rocket made by humans at the time. The last structural beam was positioned in the VAB in 1965. The interior construction, including the construction of the extensible work platforms, was completed in 1966. The building is located 3.5 miles from Launch Pad 39A and 4.2 miles from Launch Pad 39B.

The tallest portion of the VAB is called the high bay. There are four high bays, two on the east side, and two on the west side of the building. Each has a 456-foot-high door, enabling rockets to be stacked vertically and then rolled out to the launch pad. It takes 45 minutes for the these bays to be opened or closed.

Fun Facts

  • The VAB is one of the largest buildings in the world by area, covering eight acres, it is 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide.
  • It is made up of 65,000 cubic yards of concrete and its frame is constructed from 98,590 tons of steel. It stands atop a support base of 4,225 steel pilings driven 164 feet into bedrock.
  • The VAB high bay doors are the largest in the world at 456 feet high and take about 45 minutes to completely open or close.
  • The building is home to the largest American flag, a 209-foot-tall, 110-foot-wide star spangled banner painted on the side of the VAB.
  • The VAB was painted in 2007, when the repairs were completed after the 2004 Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne tore 845 panels off the building.
  • The flag originally was painted onto the VAB in 1976 for the Bicentennial Exposition on Space and Technology.
  • It will take more than 500 gallons of paint to repaint the American flag, and the NASA meatball, which measures 110 feet tall by 132 feet wide. 

Credit: NASA

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