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NASA Opens 'Door to Exploration'
10.03.06
 
As the door is closing on NASA's Space Shuttle Program, another door is opening to make way for the next generation of human space vehicles: the Constellation Program.

The 50-foot-tall door at the west end of the high bay in Kennedy Space Center's historic Operations and Checkout Building was opened for the first time in more than two decades during a ceremony Sept. 26.

The west door of the Operations and Checkout Building is reopened."We're gathered here today in recognition of the first step in the journey," said International Space Station/Payload Processing Director Russell Romanella. "This is truly a symbolic event. We have an exciting future, and today we're really opening the door to exploration."

Image to right: Employees attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony mingle beneath the newly opened west door entry to the high bay in the Operations and Checkout Building. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Lockheed Martin plans to use the 40-year-old facility to complete final assembly and testing of the new Orion crew capsule, NASA's next-generation human spacecraft. The first flight with astronauts aboard is planned for no later than 2014, and the Orion capsule's first flight to the moon is planned for no later than 2020.

Originally called the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, the five-story facility was essential to the Apollo Program. This is where the Apollo command and service modules were inspected after their arrival at the space center, mated and put through integrated testing before transfer to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Later, the Operations and Checkout Building was used for testing of Spacelab science modules that flew on space shuttle missions and International Space Station trusses. However, the west door wasn't used and hasn't been opened for the duration of the shuttle program.

Space Florida and Kennedy Space Center worked together to begin transforming the high bay into a configuration similar to the facility's original concept. With assistance from the Space Coast Economic Development Commission, the state provided $35 million through Space Florida to bring Lockheed Martin to Kennedy, and to use this facility as a factory for Orion crew modules and service modules.

Additionally, the state funded a $735,000 project to clean out the facility. The Boeing Company's Checkout, Assembly and Payload Processing Services team removed Spacelab facility structures and equipment -- including 50 tons of structural steel that was part of the test stands -- and updated, inspected and reactivated the west door.

The Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 command and service modules are shown inside the high bay."We are so proud that we were selected, along with the entire Orion team, to be the people who will be generating the next vehicle that's going to take us to the moon, Mars and beyond," said Lockheed Martin Director of Government Relations, Adrian Lafitte. "We're ready to open, and start our piece of the project."

Image to left: In this photo dated April 1, 1969, the Apollo 11 command and service modules are moved from an altitude chamber to the test stand inside the Manned Space Operations Building. Shown in the background is the Apollo 12 command module. Image credit: NASA

As the ceremonial scissors snipped through the red ribbon, the six-paneled door slid open with barely a sound, beginning a new chapter in the storied building's rich history.

Kennedy Space Center Director James Kennedy, who was a sophomore at nearby Cocoa Beach High School when construction on the building was completed in 1964, noted the upcoming work on Orion helps to ensure the center's future.

"We open these doors today to a bright future," Kennedy said. "It is an '(Orion) factory.' What a great idea, for non-traditional work to come to the Kennedy Space Center to give us a bright future as we work this challenging mission together."
 
 
Anna Heiney
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center