Santa to Help Test New Control Tower
When Santa Claus lands at NASA-Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on Christmas Eve, someone will be watching.
The SLF -- which stands for Sleigh Landing Facility during the holidays -- will be dark and quiet, but it won't be empty. NASA-KSC airspace is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a Military Radar Unit (MRU) controller. When Santa slips into Brevard County under cover of darkness, the radar controller will be following his every move from a brand-new, state-of-the-art traffic control tower.
The new air traffic control tower at NASA-KSC stands about 100 feet above the Shuttle Landing Facility.
"We've been in contact with Santa, although for security reasons I can't elaborate," said Ron Feile, lead air traffic controller with Space Gateway Services (SGS). "Santa knows about the control tower, and he's very pleased that he can help us give it a shakedown."
SLF employees look forward to working in the new facility. It replaces a control tower that has been in use since 1987. Located just south of the SLF's midpoint, the old tower stands only about 20 feet above the runway surface, too low to see the launch pads to the east. During nighttime landing operations, those inside the tower are hindered by the eight-billion candlepower xenon lights that illuminate the runway.
Built atop an existing mound, the new control tower rises nearly 100 feet over the midpoint of the runway, giving controllers a spectacular 360-degree view of NASA-KSC and northern Brevard County.
This control tower (foreground), built in 1987, was too low and too close to the runway. The new tower is visible in the distance.
The new facility will also replace the SLF Operations Building. The operations building is home to the Military Radar Unit that monitors NASA-KSC airspace 24 hours a day, as well as runway light controls, navigational aids, weather and wind speed instrumentation, and gate controls. Computer displays in the control tower will be fully modernized to Federal Aviation Administration standards with touch-screen technology.
From a weather station located in a wooded area east of the runway, KSC weather is also monitored 24 hours a day. From this area, the SLF is not even visible. When the new tower opens, those who monitor the weather will move in first, giving up their remote station in favor of the new, high-tech facility.
Construction on the new facility began in February 2003 and is nearly ready for occupancy. Only some final inspections and approvals remain. A support building and Public Affairs viewing deck, to be used for observing future landing operations, will be added and are already in work.
"The new building is a great improvement," Feile said. "We look forward to testing it out on Christmas Eve during Santa's landing."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center