Musk Says Maiden Falcon Heavy to Launch in November, Acknowledges High Risk and Releases New Animation

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket poised for launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in this artists concept. Credit: SpaceX

Before the year is out, the long awaited debut launch of the triple barreled Falcon Heavy rocket may at last be in sight says SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk, as he forthrightly acknowledges it comes with high risk and released a stunning launch and landing animation earlier today, Aug. 4.

After years of painstaking development and delays, the inaugural blastoff of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy is currently slated for November 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to Musk.

“Falcon Heavy maiden launch this November,” SpaceX CEO and billionaire founder Elon Musk tweeted last week.

“Lot that can go wrong in the November launch …,” Musk said today on Instagram, downplaying the chances of complete success.

And to whet the appetites of space enthusiasts worldwide, just today Musk also published a one minute long draft animation illustrating the Falcon Heavy triple booster launch and how the individual landings of the trio of first stage booster cores will take place – nearly simultaneously.

Video Caption: SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch from KSC pad 39A pad and first stage booster landings. Credit: SpaceX

“Side booster rockets return to Cape Canaveral,” explains Musk on twitter. “Center lands on droneship.”

The two side boosters will be recycled from prior Falcon 9 launches and make precision guided propulsive, upright ground soft landings back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Each booster is outfitted with a quartet of grid fins and landing legs. The center core is newly built and heavily modified.

“Sides run high thrust, center is lower thrust until sides separate & fly back. Center then throttles up, keeps burning & lands on droneship. If we’re lucky!” Musk elaborated.

The center booster will touch down on an ocean going droneship prepositioned in the Atlantic Ocean some 400 miles (600 km) off of Florida’s east coast.

To date SpaceX first stages from KSC launches have touched down either on land at Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at the Cape or at sea on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship barge (OCISLY).

The launch of the extremely complicated Falcon Heavy booster with 27 first stage Merlin 1D engines also comes associated with a huge risk – and he hopes that it at least rises far enough off the ground to minimize the chances of damage to the historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

“There’s a lot of risk associated with Falcon Heavy, a real good chance that that vehicle does not make it to orbit,” Musk said recently while speaking at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Washington, D.C. on July 19.

“I want to make sure to set expectations accordingly. I hope it makes it far enough beyond the pad so that it does not cause pad damage. I would consider even that a win, to be honest.”

Musk originally proposed the Falcon Heavy in 2011 and targeted a maiden mission in 2013.

Whenever it does launch, the Falcon Heavy will become the world’s most powerful rocket.

“I think Falcon Heavy is going to be a great vehicle,” Musk stated. “There’s just so much that’s really impossible to test on the ground, and we’ll do our best.

“Falcon Heavy requires the simultaneous ignition of 27 orbit-class engines. There’s a lot that can go wrong there.”

Designing and building Falcon Heavy has proven to be far more difficult than Musk ever imagined, and the center booster had to be significantly redesigned.

“It actually ended up being way harder to do Falcon Heavy than we thought,” Musk explained.

“At first it sounds real easy! You just stick two first stages on as strap-on boosters. How hard can that be?” But then everything changes. All the loads change, aerodynamics totally change. You’ve tripled the vibration and acoustics. You sort of break the qualification levels on so much of the hardware.”

“The amount of load you’re putting through that center core is crazy because you’ve got two super-powerful boosters also shoving that center core. So we had to redesign the whole center core airframe,” Musk added. “It’s not like the Falcon 9 – because it’s got to take so much load. Then you’ve got separation systems.”

Due to the high risk, there will be no payload from a paying customer housed inside the nose cone atop the center core. Only a dummy payload will be installed on the maiden mission.

However future Falcon Heavy missions have been manifested with commercial and science payloads.

Musk also hopes to launch a pair of paying private astronauts on a trip around the Moon and back as soon as 2018 while journeying inside a Crew Dragon spacecraft with the Falcon Heavy – similar to what his company is developing for NASA for commercial ferry missions to low Earth orbit (LEO) and the International Space Station (ISS).

Falcon Heavy will blast off with about twice the thrust of the Delta IV Heavy, currently the worlds most powerful rocket. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy (D4H) has been the world’s mightiest rocket since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttles in 2011.

The Falcon Heavy sports about 2/3 the liftoff thrust of NASA’s Saturn V manned moon landing rockets – last launched in the 1970s.

SpaceX Falcon 9 blasts off with Intelsat 35e – 4th next gen ‘Epic’ TV and mobile broadband comsat for Intelsat – on July 5, 2017 at 7:38 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Falcon Heavy is comprised of three Falcon 9 cores. The Delta IV Heavy is comprised of three Delta Common Core Boosters.

The combined trio of Falcon 9 cores will generate about 5.1 million pounds of liftoff thrust upon ignition from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“With the ability to lift into orbit over 54 metric tons (119,000 lb)–a mass equivalent to a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel–Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost,” according to the SpaceX website.

“The nice thing is when you fully optimize it, it’s about two-and-a-half times the payload capability of a Falcon 9,” Musk notes. “It’s well over 100,000 pounds to LEO of payload capability, 50 tons. It can even get up a little higher than that if optimized.”

ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket delivers NROL-37 spy satellite to orbit on June 11, 2016 from Space Launch Complex-37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two stage Falcon Heavy stands more than 229.6 feet (70 meters) tall and is 39.9 feet wide (12.2 meters).

It weighs more than 3.1 million pounds (1.4 million kilograms).

Like the Falcon 9 it will be fueled with liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene propellants.

The thunder, power and roar of over 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust from the Falcon Heavy’s 27 engines is absolutely certain to be a thrilling, earth-shaking space spectacular !! Thus placing it in a class of its own unlike any US launch since NASA’s Saturn V and Space Shuttles rocketed to the high frontier from the same pad.

“I encourage people to come down to the Cape to see the first Falcon Heavy mission,” Musk said. “It’s guaranteed to be exciting.”

But before the Falcon Heavy can actually be rolled up to launch position at pad 39A, SpaceX must first complete repairs and refurbishment to nearby pad 40.

That Cape pad was heavily damaged nearly a year ago during a catastrophic launch pad explosion that took place in Sept. 2016 during a routine prelaunch fueling and static fire engine test of a Falcon 9 rocket with the Amos-6 commercial comsat payload bolted on top.

Pad 40 must achieve operational launch status again before SpaceX can commit to the Falcon Heavy launches at Pad 39A. Workers will also need to finish construction work at pad 39A to support the Heavy launches.

SpaceX Falcon 9 booster deploys quartet of landing legs moments before precision propulsive ground touchdown at Landing Zone 1 on Canaveral Air Force Station barely nine minutes after liftoff from Launch Complex 39A on 3 June 2017 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the Dragon CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

To date SpaceX has successfully demonstrated the recovery of thirteen boosters by land and sea.

Furthermore SpaceX engineers have advanced to the next step and successfully recycled, reflown and relaunched two ‘flight-proven first stages this year in March and June of 2017 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida involving the SES-10 and BulgariaSat-1 launches respectively.

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk and SES CTO Martin Halliwell exuberantly shake hands of congratulation following the successful delivery of SES-10 TV comsat to orbit using the first reflown and flight proven booster in world history at the March 30, 2017 post launch media briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/Kenkremer.com

The next SpaceX Falcon 9 launch is slated for Aug. 13 on the NASA contracted CRS-12 resupply mission to the ISS.

Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Booster leaning atop OCISLY droneship upon which it landed after 23 June launch from KSC floats into Port Canaveral, FL, on 29 June 2017, hauled by tugboat as seen from Jetty Park Pier. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Blastoff of 2nd flight-proven SpaceX Falcon 9 with 1st geostationary communications for Bulgaria at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23, 2017, carrying BulgariaSat-1 to orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida- as seen from the crawlerway. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Book Review: Neil Armstrong – A Life of Flight by Jay Barbree

“Neil Armstrong – A Life of Flight” is a thoroughly enjoyable new biography about the first human to set foot on the Moon on NASA’s Apollo 11 mission written with gusto by Emmy winning NBC News space correspondent Jay Barbree.

Jay Barbee is a veteran NBC News reporter who has covered America’s manned space program from the start. And he has the distinction of being the only reporter to cover every single American manned space launch – all 166 from Alan Shepard in 1961 to STS-135 in 2011 – from his home base at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida allowing him to draw on a wealth of eyewitness experiences and inside contacts.

The book’s publication coincides with the 45th anniversary of the Flight of Apollo 11 on America’s first manned moon landing mission in July 1969 by the three man crew comprising Commander Neil Armstrong, fellow moonwalker and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Command Module pilot Michael Collins.

It’s a meticulously researched book over five decades in the making and based on personal interviews, notes, meetings, remembrances, behind the scenes visits, launches and more between Neil Armstrong and his trusted friend Jay Barbree as well as hordes more officials and astronauts key to achieving NASA’s spaceflight goals.

He won that trust because the astronauts and others trusted that he would get the story right and never betray confidences, Jay told me in an interview about the book.

“This is really Neil’s book. And it’s as accurate as possible. I will never reveal something Neil told me in confidence. But there is far more in this book about Neil than he would have liked.”

Jay Barbree and Neil Armstrong enjoy dinner with America’s first in orbit, John Glenn, who is performing standup comedy out of the picture. Courtesy:  Jay Barbee. See  Jay Barbree and Neil Armstrong enjoy dinner with America’s first in orbit, John Glenn, who is performing standup comedy out of the picture. Courtesy:  Jay Barbree. See  p. XIX
Jay Barbree and Neil Armstrong enjoy dinner with America’s first in orbit, John Glenn, who is performing standup comedy out of the picture. Courtesy: Jay Barbree. See p. XIX

There is a six page list of acknowledgments and the forward is written by no less than John Glenn – the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

Barbree is a master story teller who amply illustrates why NASA felt Armstrong was the best candidate to be 1st Man on the Moon based on his extraordinary intellect, piloting skills, and collected coolness and clear thinking under extraordinary pressure.

Armstrong also always shied away from publicity and bringing attention to himself, Barbree told me.

“Neil did not think he was any more important than anyone else. Neil wanted to do a book about a life of flight. But he wanted everyone else included.” And that’s exactly the format for the book – including Armstrong’s colleagues in words and pictures.

On July 21, NASA officially renamed a historic human spaceflight facility at the Kennedy Space Center in honor of Mission Commander Neil Armstrong – read my story here.

At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA's 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building's high bay is being used to support the agency's new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O'Connell
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA’s 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building’s high bay is being used to support the agency’s new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O’Connell

Barbree details Armstrong’s lifetime of flight experiences that led to the ultimate Moon landing moment; starting with his early experiences as a Korean war combat pilot and bailing out of a crippled Panther F9F fighter plane, flying the X-15 to an altitude of 39 miles and the edge of space as a NASA test pilot, his selection as a member of the second group of astronauts on September 17, 1962, his maiden space mission on Gemini 8 which suddenly went out of control and threatened the crews lives, and finally the landing on the Sea of Tranquility with only 30 seconds of fuel remaining.

“Neil Armstrong – A Life of Flight” is a book for anyone interested in learning the nitty gritty inside details starting from the founding of America’s space effort, the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the earlier Mercury and Gemini manned programs, the terrible tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire and death of three brave Americans – Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – and how all this swirl lead up to America’s determined and miraculous effort recounting how we got to the Moon. Go elsewhere for gossip.

This hefty 350 page volume is absolutely chock full of details including copious quotes on virtually every page. So much so that Barbree brings the along reader for what seems like a firsthand account. It’s as though he were a fly in the room listening in on history being made and transcribing it second by second or as an actual crew member riding along himself and reporting ultimately from aboard Apollo 11 and the Moon’s desolate surface.

On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

Barbree does this by putting into context the full meaning and breadth of what’s happening on a moment by moment basis. Giving you the reader a complete understanding of what, why and how these history making events transpired as they did.

I found his background information endlessly illuminating and informative ! – precisely because it’s not merely a transcription of dialogue.

Concerning the mild controversy regarding Armstrong’s actual first words spoken from the lunar surface, here’s excerpts from how Jay tells the story on p. 263:

“He had thought about one statement he judged had meaning and fit the historic occasion …. Neil had not made up his mind … he was undecided until he was faced with the moment.

Armstrong then lifted his left boot .. and set it down in moon dust.

“That’s one small step for man,” Neil said with a momentary pause. “One giant leap for mankind.”

What most didn’t know was that Neil had meant to say, “That’s one small step for a man,” and that set off an argument for years to come. Had a beep in transmission wiped it from our ears or had Neil nervously skipped the word?

Knowing Neil’s struggles with public speaking, I believe the latter, and with all the excitement … I’ve never been convinced Neil knew himself for sure,” Barbree wrote.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA

Towards the books conclusion, he writes of Armstrong; “No greater man walked among us. No better man left us informed answers. Neil taught us how to take care of our Earth-Moon system.”

I also enjoyed towards the end of the book where Jay includes Neil’s disappointment that we haven’t ventured beyond Earth orbit in over 4 decades and includes Neil’s personal testimony to Congress so we learn the detail of Armstrong thoughts – in his own words.

“I am persuaded that a return to the moon would be the most productive path to expanding the human presence in the solar system.”

Jay also pinpoints why we haven’t returned to the Moon; “lack of vision for the future” by Congress and Presidents “have kept astronauts locked in Earth orbit.”

It’s been my privilege to get to know Jay during my own space reporting from the press site at the Kennedy Space Center and interview him about his magnificent new book.

Read Jay Barbree’s new 8 part series of 45th anniversary Apollo 11 stories at NBC News here:

Morning on the Moon: Apollo 11 Showed How Far We Could Go

Armstrong passed away unexpectedly at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Despite Armstrong’s premature passing, Barbree told me he had completed all the interviews.

“There isn’t anything that comes to mind about Neil Armstrong that I didn’t get to ask him,” Barbree told me.

Read my 45th Apollo 11 anniversary articles here:

Apollo 11 Splashdown 45 Years Ago on July 24, 1969 Concludes 1st Moon Landing Mission – Gallery

Historic Human Spaceflight Facility at Kennedy Renamed in Honor of Neil Armstrong – 1st Man on the Moon


Apollo 11 Moon Landing 45 Years Ago on July 20, 1969: Relive the Moment! – With an Image Gallery and Watch the Restored EVA Here

Cygnus Commercial Resupply Ship ‘Janice Voss’ Berths to Space Station on 45th Apollo 11 Anniversary

Read my story about the deep sea recovery of the Apollo 11 first stage F-1 engines in 2013 – here.

Jay Barbree is on a book signing tour and you might be lucky to catch him at an event like a colleague of mine did at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum recently. See photo below.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Jay Barbree at “Neil Armstrong” book signing tour at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Credit: Mark Usciak
Jay Barbree at “Neil Armstrong” book signing tour at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Credit: Mark Usciak

Apollo 11 Splashdown 45 Years Ago on July 24, 1969 Concludes 1st Moon Landing Mission – Gallery

Apollo 11 Comes Home
The Apollo 11 crew await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic lunar landing mission. The fourth man in the life raft is a United States Navy underwater demolition team swimmer. All four men are wearing biological isolation garments. They splashed down at 12:49 a.m. EDT, July 24, 1969, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the USS Hornet. Credit: NASA
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The three man crew of NASA’s Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 45 years ago today on July 24, 1969 – successfully concluding Earth’s first journey to land humans on another world and return them safely to our Home Planet.

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969 after he stepped off the footpad of the Lunar Module Eagle soon after the start of the moonwalk EVA at 10:39 p.m. EDT and onto the lunar surface with his left foot at the Sea of Tranquility at 10:56 p.m. EDT. Lunar Module (LM) pilot Buzz Aldrin followed soon thereafter. They came in peace for all mankind!

The magnificent Lunar landing feat accomplished by US Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin marks the pinnacle of Mankind’s most momentous achievement.

The Apollo 11 crew consisting of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Command module pilot Michael Collins splashed down safely at 12:50 p.m. EDT on July 24 about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii in the North Pacific Ocean while seated inside the Command Module Columbia dangling at the end of a trio of massive parachutes that slowed their descent through the Earth’s atmosphere.

President Nixon Greets the Returning Apollo 11 Astronauts. The Apollo 11 astronauts, left to right, Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS Hornet, listen to President Richard M. Nixon on July 24, 1969 as he welcomes them back to Earth and congratulates them on the successful mission. The astronauts had splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. EDT about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii.  Credit: NASA
President Nixon Greets the Returning Apollo 11 Astronauts. The Apollo 11 astronauts, left to right, Commander Neil A. Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility aboard the USS Hornet, listen to President Richard M. Nixon on July 24, 1969 as he welcomes them back to Earth and congratulates them on the successful mission. The astronauts had splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:50 p.m. EDT about 900 miles southwest of Hawaii. Credit: NASA

After a mission duration of 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds from launch to landing the Apollo 11 crew were plucked from the ocean by helicopters from the USS Hornet recovery ship after splashdown only 12 nautical miles (24 km) away.

They had to don protective biological isolation garments (BIGs) in case they were infected by some unknown and potentially hazardous “moon germs.” Of course there were no pathogens, but this was not definitely known at the time.

After their return to Earth, the trio was scrubbed with a disinfect solution of sodium hypochlorite and had to remain in quarantine for 21 days inside a 30 feet (9.1 m) long quarantine facility known as the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL).

They were welcomed back to Earth by President Nixon aboard the USS Hornet.

We’ve chronicled the journey of Apollo 11 and lunar touchdown on July 20, 1969 as well as this week’s renaming of a historic human spaceflight facility at the Kennedy Space Center in honor of Mission Commander Neil Armstrong.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Here we’ve collected a gallery of the mission and ocean splashdown that brought Apollo 11 to a close and fulfilled the lunar landing quest set by a young President John F. Kennedy early in the decade of the 1960s.

The trio blasted off atop a 363 foot-tall Saturn V rocket from Launch Complex 39A on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center , Florida on July 16, 1969.

Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait.    Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot.  Image Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait. Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot. Image Credit: NASA

The three-stage Saturn V generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust and propelled the trio into space and immortality.

Read my story about the deep sea recovery of the Apollo 11 first stage F-1 engines in 2013 – here.

The crew arrived in lunar orbit three days later on July 19, 1969, inside the docked Apollo 11 Command/Service and Lunar Modules (CSM/LM).

Armstrong and Aldrin then moved into the Lunar Module, undocked and safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:18 p.m EDT as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe.

Six hours later Armstrong climbed down the LM ladder and stepped onto the Moon and into immortality.

Armstrong’s first words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hour long moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

The duo collected about 50 pounds (22 kg) of priceless moon rocks and set out the first science experiments placed by humans on another world. The moon rocks were invaluable in informing us about the origin of the Earth – Moon system.

Here is NASA’s restored video of the Apollo 11 EVA on July 20, 1969:

Video Caption: Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module’s descent stage.

Altogether Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 21 hours on the moon’s surface. Then they said goodbye to the greatest adventure and fired up the LM ascent engine to rejoin Michael Collins circling above in the Apollo 11 Command Module.

“The whole world was together at that particular moment,” says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a CNN interview. “In spite of all we are going through there is hope!”

Celebrating Apollo 11.  NASA and Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) officials joined with flight controllers to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission in the Mission Control Center. From left foreground Dr. Maxime A. Faget, MSC Director of Engineering and Development; George S. Trimble, MSC Deputy Director; Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr., MSC Director fo Flight Operations; Julian Scheer (in back), Assistant Adminstrator, Office of Public Affairs, NASA HQ.; George M. Low, Manager, Apollo Spacecraft Program, MSC; Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, MSC Director; and Charles W. Mathews, Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Manned Space Flight, NASA HQ.  Credit: NASA
Celebrating Apollo 11. NASA and Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) officials joined with flight controllers to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission in the Mission Control Center. From left foreground Dr. Maxime A. Faget, MSC Director of Engineering and Development; George S. Trimble, MSC Deputy Director; Dr. Christopher C. Kraft Jr., MSC Director fo Flight Operations; Julian Scheer (in back), Assistant Adminstrator, Office of Public Affairs, NASA HQ.; George M. Low, Manager, Apollo Spacecraft Program, MSC; Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, MSC Director; and Charles W. Mathews, Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Manned Space Flight, NASA HQ. Credit: NASA

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Apollo 11 Welcome. New York City welcomes the Apollo 11 crew in a ticker tape parade down Broadway and Park Avenue. Pictured in the lead car, from the right, are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The three astronauts teamed for the first manned lunar landing, on July 20, 1969.  Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Welcome. New York City welcomes the Apollo 11 crew in a ticker tape parade down Broadway and Park Avenue. Pictured in the lead car, from the right, are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The three astronauts teamed for the first manned lunar landing, on July 20, 1969. Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Launch.  The American flag heralded the launch of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969. The massive Saturn V rocket lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon's surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. Armstrong and Aldrin gathered samples of lunar material and deployed scientific experiments that transmitted data about the lunar environment.   Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Launch. The American flag heralded the launch of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969. The massive Saturn V rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon’s surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. Armstrong and Aldrin gathered samples of lunar material and deployed scientific experiments that transmitted data about the lunar environment. Credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11.  On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States' first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules "Columbia" in lunar orbit.  Image credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11. On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States’ first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module “Eagle” to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules “Columbia” in lunar orbit. Image credit: NASA
The Eagle Prepares to Land.  The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine.  Image Credit: NASA
The Eagle Prepares to Land. The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine. Image Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module "Eagle." Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera.   Image credit: NASA
Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module “Eagle.” Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera. Image credit: NASA
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA's 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building's high bay is being used to support the agency's new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O'Connell
At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2014, NASA officials and Apollo astronauts have a group portrait taken in front of the refurbished Operations and Checkout Building, newly named for Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. From left are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Apollo astronauts Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and Center Director Robert Cabana. The visit of the former astronauts was part of NASA’s 45th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The building’s high bay is being used to support the agency’s new Orion spacecraft, which will lift off atop the Space Launch System rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kevin O’Connell

Apollo 11 Moon Landing 45 Years Ago on July 20, 1969: Relive the Moment! – With an Image Gallery and Watch the Restored EVA Here

The Eagle Prepares to Land
The Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, in a landing configuration was photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Module Columbia. Inside the module were Commander Neil A. Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin. The long rod-like protrusions under the landing pods are lunar surface sensing probes. Upon contact with the lunar surface, the probes sent a signal to the crew to shut down the descent engine. Image Credit: NASA
Watch the restored EVA video below and on NASA TV on July 20 starting at 10:39 p.m. EDT[/caption]

Man first walked on the Moon 45 years ago today on July 20, 1969 when American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin opened the hatch to the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle, climbed down the ladder and set foot on the surface – marking mankind’s greatest achievement. They came in peace for all mankind!

You can relive the historic moment with the gallery of Apollo 11 NASA images collected here and by watching NASA’s restored video of the moonwalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA) by Armstrong and Aldrin – watch video below. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT.

NASA TV is also broadcasting a replay of the historic moonwalk tonight (July 20) to commemorate the anniversary starting at 10:39 p.m. EDT, with the restored footage of Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic steps on the lunar surface.

You can view the NASA TV Apollo 11 EVA webcast – here.

The Eagle had landed on the Moon’s desolate surface on the Sea of Tranquility (see map below) barely 6 hours earlier at 4:18 p.m EDT. And only 30 seconds of fuel remained as Armstrong searched for a safe landing spot.

Neil Armstrong was the commander of the three man crew of Apollo 11, which included fellow moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and Command module pilot Michael Collins.

Here is NASA’s restored video of the Apollo 11 EVA on July 20, 1969:

Video Caption: Original Mission Video as aired in July 1969 depicting the Apollo 11 astronauts conducting several tasks during extravehicular activity (EVA) operations on the surface of the moon. The EVA lasted approximately 2.5 hours with all scientific activities being completed satisfactorily. The Apollo 11 EVA began at 10:39:33 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969 when Astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the spacecraft first. While descending, he released the Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly on the Lunar Module’s descent stage.

The trio blasted off atop a 363 foot-tall Saturn V rocket from Launch Complex 39A on their bold, quarter of a million mile moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center , Florida on July 16, 1969 to fulfill the lunar landing quest set by President John F. Kennedy early in the decade.

The three-stage Saturn V generated 7.5 million pounds of thrust and propelled the trio into space and immortality.

Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait.    Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot.  Image Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 Official Crew Portrait. Official crew photo of the Apollo 11 Prime Crew. From left to right are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Commander; Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module Pilot. Image Credit: NASA

The Apollo 11 mission was truly a global event.

Armstrong and Aldrin safely touched down at the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969 at 4:18 p.m EDT as hundreds of millions across the globe watched in awe and united in purpose.

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed !,” Armstrong called out and emotional applause erupted at Mission Control – “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue.”

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stands on the moon's surface on July 20, 1969, the first human to do so. Credit: NASA/CBS/YouTube (screenshot)
Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stands on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, the first human to do so. Credit: NASA/CBS/YouTube (screenshot)

Armstrong carried all of humanity with him when he stepped off the footpad of NASA’s Apollo 11 Lunar Module and became the first representative of the human species to walk on the surface of another celestial body.

Armstrong’s first immortal words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

During their 2 ½ hours moonwalk Armstrong and Aldrin unveiled a plaque on the side of the lunar module. Armstrong read the words;

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA
On the Lunar Surface – Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

The duo collected about 50 pounds (22 kg) of priceless moon rocks and set out the first science experiments placed by humans on another world. The moon rocks were invaluable in informing us about the origin of the Earth – Moon system.

Aldrin on the Moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins remained with the command and service modules in lunar orbit.  Image Credit: NASA
Aldrin on the Moon. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins remained with the command and service modules in lunar orbit. Image Credit: NASA

Altogether Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 21 hours on the moon’s surface. Then they said goodbye to the greatest adventure and fired up the LM ascent engine to rejoin Michael Collins circling above in the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin plant the US flag on the Lunar Surface during 1st human moonwalk in history 45 years ago on July 20, 1969 during Apollo 1l mission. Credit: NASA

Following the triumphant moonwalk and docking, the crew set their sights for the journey back to the Home Planet.

apollo 11 logo
Apollo 11 logo

The Apollo 11 mission ended with a successful splash down off Hawaii on July 24.

The crew, NASA and America achieved President Kennedy’s challenge of men walking on the Moon before the decade was out and returning safely to Earth.

Armstrong passed away at age 82 on August 25, 2012 due to complications from heart bypass surgery. Read my prior tribute articles: here and here

Surviving crew members Aldrin and Collins will join NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a ceremony on Monday at the Kennedy Space Center.

Bootprint.  A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin's bootprint in the lunar soil, photographed with the 70mm lunar surface camera during Apollo 11's sojourn on the moon.  Image Credit: NASA
Bootprint. A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint in the lunar soil, photographed with the 70mm lunar surface camera during Apollo 11’s sojourn on the moon. Image Credit: NASA

Altogether a dozen Americans have walked on the Moon during NASA’s five additional Apollo lunar landing missions. No human has returned since the final crew of Apollo 17 departed the Moon’s surface in December 1972.

One legacy of Apollo is the International Space Station (ISS) where six astronauts and cosmonauts work together on science research to benefit mankind.

Notably, the Cygnus commercial cargo ship berthed at the ISS on the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 liftoff bringing over 3600 pounds of science experiments and supplies to the station.

NASA’s next big human spaceflight goals are building commercial ‘space taxis’ to low Earth orbit in this decade, an asteroid retrieval mission in the 2020s and voyages to Mars in the 2030s using the new SLS rocket and Orion deep space crew capsule currently under development.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module "Eagle." Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera.   Image credit: NASA
Aldrin Gazes at Tranquility Base. Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. He had just deployed the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. In the foreground is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package; beyond it is the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR-3). In the left background is the black and white lunar surface television camera and in the far right background is the Lunar Module “Eagle.” Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with the 70mm lunar surface camera. Image credit: NASA
Beginning the Mission. The Apollo 11 crew leaves Kennedy Space Center's Manned Spacecraft Operations Building during the pre-launch countdown. Mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin prepare to ride the special transport van to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff occurred 38 years ago today at 9:32 a.m. EDT, July 16, 1969.  Image credit: NASA
Beginning the Mission. The Apollo 11 crew leaves Kennedy Space Center’s Manned Spacecraft Operations Building during the pre-launch countdown. Mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin prepare to ride the special transport van to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff occurred 38 years ago today at 9:32 a.m. EDT, July 16, 1969. Image credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11.  On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States' first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules "Columbia" in lunar orbit.  Image credit: NASA
Launch of Apollo 11. On July 16, 1969, the huge, 363-feet tall Saturn V rocket launches on the Apollo 11 mission from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center, at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Onboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the United States’ first lunar landing mission. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module “Eagle” to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Collins remained with the Command and Service Modules “Columbia” in lunar orbit. Image credit: NASA
Apollo 11 liftoff from Pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 liftoff from Pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA
Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969
Apollo 11 landing site on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969

Now is Your Last Chance to Visit Inside NASA’s Iconic Vehicle Assembly Building – and maybe see an Orion

NASA’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and Launch Control Center (LCC) at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Public access tours inside the VAB will end on Feb. 11, 2014. NASA’s Apollo Saturn V Moon rockets and Space Shuttles were assembled inside.
Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Story updated- Last chance to visit VAB extended to Feb. 23[/caption]

If you have ever wanted to take a personal trip inside NASA’s world famous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, now is the time.

In fact this is your last chance. Because access to the hugely popular public tours will end very soon. And perhaps you’ll see an Orion test capsule too.

Indeed you only have until Feb. 11 [Update: now extended to Feb. 23] to enjoy the KSC “Up-Close Tour” inside the 52 story tall VAB, according to an announcement by the privately run Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which organizes the VAB tours.

The VAB is an iconic world wide symbol of America’s space program.

And it’s home to many of NASA’s finest and most historic exploration achievements – including all the manned Apollo Moon landings and the three decade long Space Shuttle program that launched the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station (ISS) to orbit.

Why are the interior public tours being halted, barely 2 years after they started?

Because after a bit of a lull following the termination of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, space launch activities are ramping up once again and the agency must complete much needed building renovations to prepare for the next step in human exploration of the cosmos – SLS, Orion and commercial ‘space taxis’.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The agency needs unfettered use of the VAB to prepare for assembly, lifting and stacking of the new Orion crew capsule and it’s new monster booster rocket – the Space Launch System (SLS) – slated for its maiden blastoff in 2017.

You can always see the 525 foot tall VAB from the outside, gleaming proudly from miles away.

And it’s a must see from up close outside glimpses aboard tour buses driving by all day long – resplendent with a mammoth red, white and blue American flag painted on its side.

But nothing compares to being an eyewitness to history and seeing it from the inside with your own eyes, especially if you are a space enthusiast!

The VAB is one of the largest and most voluminous buildings in the world.

Since 1978, the VAB interior had been off limits to public visitors for more than 30 years during the shuttle era. It was too hazardous to visit because of the presence of the giant shuttle solid rocket boosters loaded with fuel.

Orion Ground Test Article (GTA) recently displayed on the floor inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).    Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orion Ground Test Article (GTA) recently displayed on the floor inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Inside access was finally restored to guests at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November 2011, following the retirement of the space shuttles.

Visitors could again “see firsthand where monstrous vehicles were assembled for launch, from the very first Saturn V rocket in the late 1960s to the very last space shuttle, STS-135 Atlantis, in 2011.”

Although the shuttles are now gone, there is a possibility that maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see an Orion test capsule that’s been used in real ground testing to help NASA prepare for upcoming missions.

Since the layout is constantly changing, there is no guarantee on seeing the Orion.

Possibly either an Orion boilerplate test article or the Ground Test Article (GTA) which was the first flight worthy Orion capsule to be built. The GTA is the path finding prototype for the Orion EFT-1 capsule currently in final assembly and slated to launch this Fall 2014.

Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to snap a shot like one of mine of the Orion GTA on the floor of the main working area of the VAB – known as the transfer aisle.

You will definitely get the feel for the greatest hits in space history inside the place where the moon rockets and space shuttles were lifted, stacked and assembled for flight and then rolled out to either Launch Pad 39 A or 39 B.

Atlantis approaches the VAB for the final time. Credit: Ken Kremer
Atlantis approaches the VAB for the final time during preparations for the STS-135 flight in 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

“Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has been honored to give our guests rare access to the VAB for the past two years, yet we knew that the day would come when preparations for the SLS would take precedent,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer for the Visitor Complex, in a statement.

“Kennedy Space Center is an operating space program facility, and preparations for the next chapter in space exploration are the utmost priority, and we are very excited about the future.”

Starting in 2017, America will again launch a mighty rocket – the SLS that will blast Americans to deep space after an unbelievable 50 year gap.

Full belly view of Space Shuttle Discovery coated with thousands of protective heat shield tiles in the transfer aisle of the VAB where it was processed for final launch on STS-133 mission.  Note two rectangular attach points holding left and right side main separation bolts. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Full belly view of Space Shuttle Discovery coated with thousands of protective heat shield tiles in the transfer aisle of the VAB where it was processed for final launch on STS-133 mission. Note two rectangular attach points holding left and right side main separation bolts. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

So for only about the next two weeks, you can see one of the greatest treasures of America’s space program and appreciate the cavernous interior from where our astronauts once set off for the Moon as part of the “Mega Tour”.

The “Mega Tour”, which also included visits to Launch Pad 39 A and the Launch Control Center (LCC) ends on Feb. 11, the visitor complex announced.

However the visitor complex is still offering a modified “Up-Close” tour to Pad 39A and the Launch Control Center (LCC) – at this time. But that’s subject to change at any moment depending on NASA’s priorities.

View of NASA’s 52 story tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) as seen from the top of Launch Pad 39 A.    Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
View of NASA’s 52 story tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) as seen from the very top of Launch Pad 39 A gantry. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

And don’t forget that you can also see NASA’s genuine Space Shuttle Atlantis in its new permanent exhibition hall at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Please check the visitor center website for complete details and admission pricing on “Up-Close” tours and everything else – www.kennedyspacecenter.com

There is one thing I can guarantee – if you don’t go you will see nothing!

Catch it if you can. It’s NOT coming back any time soon!

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Space Shuttle Atlantis permanent display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Space Shuttle Atlantis permanent display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
View of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the Turn Basin adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center Press Center and the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
View of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the Turn Basin adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center Press Center and the countdown clock. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com