Historic Spaceport Building Named for Neil Armstrong
Bob Granath, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
When visitors come to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, iconic facilities such as the mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and launch pads leave lasting impressions. Another facility that has had a long-standing impact on America’s human spaceflight programs recently was renamed in honor of Neil Armstrong. He has been hailed as one of the greatest heroes of the nation’s efforts to explore.
Originally constructed as the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, the facility was renamed the Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building prior to the start of the Space Shuttle Program. As Kennedy transitions from a historically government-only launch facility to an affordable, sustainable, multi-user spaceport for both government and commercial customers, the O&C was dedicated as the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building in ceremonies on July 21.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Kennedy’s Director Bob Cabana, Apollo 11 crewmates Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin, along with astronaut Jim Lovell and members of the Armstrong family, were on hand for the event.
The ceremony coincided with the anniversary of Armstrong and fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Aldrin completing the first exploration of the lunar surface and subsequent lift off from the moon.
“It’s altogether fitting that today we rename this facility the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building,” said Bolden, a former shuttle astronaut. “He, along with his crewmates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, are a bridge from NASA’s historic journey to the moon 45 years ago to our path to Mars today.”
Also a former shuttle commander, Cabana echoed Bolden’s comments.
“I can’t think of anybody better whose name could be on the O&C than Neil Armstrong,” he said. “Neil was a superb engineering test pilot and one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known.”
Lovell, who flew on Gemini 7 and 12, as well as Apollo 8 and 13, served as backup commander for the first lunar landing mission.
“Neil Armstrong was a close friend who represented the best in America,” he said.
Aldrin expressed appreciation for being selected to fly beside Armstrong on the first lunar landing mission.
“When Neil was questioned if he wanted me to go along with him (as lunar module pilot on Apollo 11), he said, ‘yes,’” Aldrin said. “I will be ever grateful.”
As command module pilot on Apollo 11, Collins remained in orbit around the moon while his crewmates landed. He recalled Armstrong’s first words as he stepped on the lunar surface, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“We all remember Neil’s ‘one small step,’” Collins said. “That powerful, powerful combination of curiosity and intelligence propelled him to the top of his profession over and over again. He took it one step further and that eventually brought him to the last rung on the ladder of the Apollo 11 LM (lunar module).”
After serving as a naval aviator, Armstrong went on to fly the X-15 rocket-powered aircraft seven times between 1960 and 1962. He served as command pilot of Gemini VIII in 1966 and became the first human to walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 11 in 1969. He died Aug. 25, 2012, at the age of 82.
On Jan. 21, 2000, the O&C Building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Today, the building’s high bay is the site where the agency’s Orion spacecraft is being assembled. Orion is designed to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before, serving as the exploration vehicle that will carry astronauts to deep space and sustain the crew during travel to destinations such as an asteroid or Mars.
Completed in 1964, the O&C was the first building finished at Kennedy and has housed astronaut crew quarters since the mid-1960s when Gemini astronauts stayed there prior to launch. The building is a five-story 602,000-square-foot structure and, as such, is the largest facility in the Industrial Area of the Florida spaceport. In addition to the astronaut crew quarters, it houses offices, payload and spacecraft checkout and assembly areas, as well as science laboratories.
Located on the third floor, the crew quarters includes meeting rooms and bedrooms. Specialized facilities include the room in which Apollo astronauts, such as Armstrong, and shuttle crews donned and tested their pressure suits prior to the trip to the launch pad.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, some of the Gemini capsules and all Apollo lunar modules and command modules were processed and tested in the high bay prior to being stacked atop their rockets. The high bay area is 175 feet long, 104 feet high and the adjacent low bay is 475 feet long and 70 feet high.
In 1965, a pair of altitude chambers was installed in the high bay for testing the environmental and life support systems of both the Apollo command/service modules and lunar modules at simulated altitudes of up to 250,000 feet. The chambers were used by the crews of all Apollo missions through Skylab in 1973 and 1974, as well as the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in July 1975.
The high bay was modified during the late 1970s to support cargo integration tests performed to verify compatibility with space shuttle systems. In the 1980s and 1990s, Spacelab modules were processed and tested for flights in space shuttle cargo bays.
Spacelab was a reusable laboratory on shuttle missions, allowing astronauts to perform extensive experiments in microgravity.
During the 1990s the west altitude chamber was reactivated with new pumps, controls and handling systems to support International Space Station (ISS) checkouts. The space station’s pressurized modules, including the ISS Airlock and U.S. Laboratory were vacuum-tested in the chambers. Processing activities also included hardware staging, payload integration and verification.
The high bay underwent another extensive, two-year renovation starting in 2007 to outfit the facility for the final assembly of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Space Florida, Lockheed Martin and NASA provided funds to clear the facility of about 50 tons of steel stands, structures and equipment. The refurbishment involved replacing the entire facility support infrastructure and installing new overhead cranes to support manufacturing and assembly work.
With the renovations complete, unique tooling stations and fixtures were installed. The first Orion scheduled to go into space arrived in the O&C high bay in June 2012 in the form of a primary structure pressure vessel. It now is being assembled into a flight-ready spacecraft for the unpiloted Exploration Flight Test -1 atop a Delta IV rocket slated for December 2014.
In the future, Orion will launch on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. More powerful than any rocket ever built, SLS will be capable of sending humans to deep-space destinations.
During the ceremony to rename the O&C, Armstrong’s sons Rick and Mark addressed those gathered for the program.
“On behalf of the Armstrong family, I’d like to thank you for this tremendous honor,” Mark Armstrong said. “This Orion vehicle behind us is truly impressive. It is our hope that the new name that graces this facility will inspire those who work here for many, many years to come.”