Friday, September 03, 2010

Dismantling space infrastructure: thoughts on the shuttle launch pad.

It's the fate of industrial heritage: when no longer useful, it is dismantled, demolished, sold off for scrap.  This is what happened at Woomera after the end of ELDO and Apollo, and it's about to take place at the US Space Shuttle launch pad, 39B, at the Kennedy Space Centre.  The launch pad is quite historic. It was first used by the Saturn V for the Apollo 10 mission, which was essentially a test run for Apollo 11. Crews for Skylab were launched from it, as well as for Apollo-Soyuz.

Service towers will shortly be demolished, as they are custom made to fit the shuttle, and can't be reused for a newer vehicle.  Rather than a controlled implosion, which has been the method used in the past, the towers will be dismantled section by section and the metal recycled.  This approach protects the concrete foundations which can then be reused.

Jose Perez-Morales is the launch pad project manager.  He feels quite odd about what is about to take place:
"I'm an engineer and my job is to build things.  You feel a little bit funny when you're demolishing things because that's not your nature. As an engineer, you're trained to build and make sure things last forever. It's kind of mixed feelings that you're tearing down something that took so much effort to put together." (Spaceflight Now)

As well as the service towers, electronics and cables have to be removed and upgraded if the launch pad is to be refurbished and reused.  Approximately 246 miles (sorry, can't be bothered to convert this at the moment!) will have to be taken out.  As you know, I have been taking a much greater interest in cables since working at the Orroral Valley Tracking Station, so I would like to find out more about this. In equipment rooms beneath the launch pad surface, Apollo and Shuttle-era electronics are also being removed.

Are they documenting all of this from a heritage perspective, I wonder?  Will they keep samples of these materials? 

At the Department of Archaeology seminar yesterday, we had three excavation reports, one on the excavation of an old water works in Adelaide.  The plans had been located, but the actual structures and their arrangement differed significantly from the plans, as the archaeological survey and excavation revealed.  This reminded me once again that the historical documentary record is insufficient to capture everything we might want to know about places, technology, and society in the past, and even the recent past.

Launcher 39B (image courtesy of NASA/Troy Cryder)


  1. Jen McKinnon10:51 pm

    here is something to lift your spirits on the eve of space heritage destruction. i give you: space and fashion!

    or better yet, wool gathering gives it to you. every once in a while she chooses the nasa pic of the day and finds fashion that fits it. sometimes quite stunning.

  2. Jen! I could see you in those boots .....