Vehicle Assembly Building

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Vehicle Assembly Building

For more than thirty-five years the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) has been the last stop on Earth for most American human space missions, beginning with the Apollo missions, through Skylab, and the space shuttle. More than 600 people spend most of their working day in this building, preparing piloted vehicles to launch into space.

In the early 1960s it was recognized that a new, massive building would be needed to evaluate and assemble the large rocket vehicles that would carry the first Americans to the Moon. This building presented many design and construction challenges. Due to an ambitious launch schedule, the VAB had to be able to house several large Saturn rockets at one time. It had to be able to withstand a gigantic nearby explosion in case one of the rockets exploded on or near the launch pad. It had to be able to withstand winds of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) per hour in case a hurricane or tornado struck. It had to be expandable and adaptable to change. The final design called for four high bays, each of which could hold a complete Saturn 5 Moon rocket and its mobile launch platform and crawler transporter . A large transfer aisle would run down the center of the building to allow movement of the different stages of the vehicle during integration. Off to one side would be a low bay to house various machine shops and test areas. Construction of the VAB began in January 1963 and was completed in late 1965.

The VAB stands 160 meters (525 feet) tall and is 218 meters (716 feet) long by 158 meters (518 feet) wide. The total internal volume is 3,664,993 cubic meters (129,428,000 cubic feet).* Over 98,500 tons of steel and 49,696 cubic meters (65,000 cubic yards) of concrete were used in its construction. The aluminum and plastic siding rests on 4,225 steel pipes driven as far as 49 meters (160 feet) down to bedrock. If these pipes were laid end-to-end, they would reach across the state of Florida to the Tampa area. Due to the high concentration of salt water in the subsoil, each pipe is welded to thick copper wire and connected to the other pipes and the steel reinforcing rods in the concrete slab. If the pipes were not connected this way, the VAB would very quickly become a large, wet-cell battery and electrolytic corrosion would rapidly deteriorate the frame. The sidesway is kept low by means of a 58-meter-tall (190 feet) structural frame along the transfer aisle over which some vehicle stages have to be lifted during integration.

The VAB is large enough to have its own weather inside, and so one or more of the high bay doors sometimes must be opened to allow outside air to circulate. Each high bay door has seven vertical leaves, each 22 meters (72 feet) wide by 15 meters (49 feet) high. At the base of the high bay doors are four horizontal leaves that cover the bottom openings. Fully opening all the leaves in each door takes almost an hour. Smaller doors allow access to the transfer aisle and provide access for personnel.

In 1976, for the two-hundredth anniversary of the United States, a large American flag and bicentennial symbol were painted on the south side of the building, where they can be seen from most of the Kennedy Space Center. The flag is 64 meters (209 feet) long by 34 meters (110 feet) wide. In 1998, the flag was repainted and the logo of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was painted over the bicentennial symbol in commemoration of NASA's fortieth anniversary.

see also Apollo (volume 3); Launch Sites (volume 3); Nasa (volume 3); Payloads (volume 3); Space Centers (volume 3); Space Shuttle (volume 3).

Roger E. Koss


Kerrod, Robin. The Illustrated History of NASA Anniversary Edition. New York: Gallery Books, 1986.

Internet Resources

Moonport SP-4204. <http://www.hq.nasa.gpv/office/pao/History/SP-4204/>.

Vehicle Assembly Building. <>.

Vomit Comet See KC-135 Training Aircraft (Volume 3); Simulation (Volume 3).

*The total internal volume of VAB is roughly equivalent to the size of 3.75 Empire State Buildings.