It was completed in 1966 and is used for the SLS of the Artemis Program

The history and interior of VAB, NASA's massive rocket assembly building

Of all the space agency facilities, perhaps the most famous is the colossal Kennedy Space Center building in Florida.

Rubber Rooms, the most extreme and reserved bunkers at the Kennedy Space Center
NASA's armored vehicles of military origin at the Kennedy Space Center

The official name of that building is Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It has enormous dimensions: it measures 160.3 meters high, 218.2 meters long and 157.9 meters wide (to give us an idea, the entire Statue of Liberty complex measures 93 meters: it would fit within the VAB). This NASA building has a capacity of 3,665,000 cubic meters, being the eighth largest building in the world.

An aerial image of the construction of the VAB taken on November 9, 1964 (Photo: NASA).

The origin of the VAB is in the space race to the Moon. Its construction began in August 1963 in order to house the enormous Saturn V rockets (110.6 meters high) used in the NASA's Apollo program. The building was completed in 1966, and next to it was built another of NASA's most famous buildings: the Launch Control Center (LCC), which we have seen in so many movies and which was used for the first time at the launch of Apollo 4 on November 9, 1967.

The VAB in a photo taken in 2015, after the end of the space shuttle program (Photo: NASA).

The VAB has four large space vehicle assembly bays. Routes 1 and 3 face east and are the most used, as they have the shortest access to the Kennedy Space Center launch pads. The other two bays are 2 and 4, facing west. Between the two groups of bays there is a central corridor used to introduce the parts of the space vehicles.

The mobile platforms of bay number 3 of the VAB, in a photo taken on January 12, 2017 (Photo: NASA/Frank Michaux).

The interior of the VAB is equipped with large cranes that allow the different parts of the space rockets to be lifted and placed on the mobile launch platforms. In addition, each of the bays has a series of mobile platforms that adjust to the rocket as its different parts are attached. Once the rocket is completed, the VAB has four large doors, one for each bay, which are the largest doors in the world: they measure 139 meters high and take 45 minutes to fully open.

The VAB during the night launch of a rocket (Photo: NASA).

After the end of the Apollo program, the VAB was remodeled for the space shuttles, which were smaller. The moving platforms in the four bays were changed to adjust to the new size and shape of the shuttles, their tanks, and the SRBs, the two large side rockets. Currently, the VAB is used to assemble the SLS (Space Launch System) rockets of the Artemis program, with which NASA hopes to return to the Moon. These rockets measure 98 meters high and have involved remodeling the mobile platforms of the four bays of the VAB.

An SLS rocket in bay number 3 of the VAB on March 16, 2022 (Photo: NASA).

If you want to know more about this colossal building, I encourage you to watch this excellent video by Jared Owen, which was published this Friday and shows the origin, interior and operation of the VAB in great detail with a magnificent computer recreation. The video has an audio track and subtitles in English, you can activate them in the bottom bar of the player:


Main photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

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