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Blasted Off and Ready for Launch
Rotating Service Structure at Pad 39A After four years and numerous modifications, Launch Pad 39A is prepared to launch space shuttles into orbit once again.

During this hiatus, more than 70 significant improvements were made to the pad.

Image right: Workers replaced the wheels and strengthened the Rotating Service Structure at Launch Pad 39A. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

"Launch Pad 39A is in better shape than ever, and we are on track to provide one of the cleanest, safest launch platforms ever for the next mission and through space shuttle completion," said Mike Orr, director of Launch Operations for United Space Alliance, which coordinated the pad refurbishment effort for NASA.

For example, the spaceport’s environment is extremely corrosive thanks to its position next to the Atlantic Ocean, so one of the launch pad refurbishments included correcting the damage caused from years of exposure. To do so, workers sandblasted the entire structure down to the bare metal and applied two layers of protective coating.

To enhance communications, the analog system was replaced with a digital communication system known as the "integrated network control system." Pad workers use the system to talk to each other, and it allows communication between the firing room and the pad.

The Rotating Service Structure’s wheels were upgraded and the structure received additional reinforcement to withstand the increased load. The structure provides protected access to the orbiter for installation and servicing of payloads and some systems at the pad.

The modifications also addressed lightning, another major weather concern at the spaceport. A new lightning protection system, including a lightning mast, was manufactured and installed to protect the work force and equipment during lightning storms.

Worker sanding launch pad structure Furthermore, outdated and unused hardware was removed, the entire structure was rewired, and the sterile orbiter access White Room was cleaned, painted and outfitted with new light fixtures and phones. A special heat-resistant coating was also applied to the flame trench. The trench protects space shuttle hardware from main engine and solid rocket booster flames.

Image left: A worker removes corrosion from the metal framework of Launch Pad 39A during recent refurbishment of the venerable launch complex. Photo credit: NASA/KSC

The octagon-shaped launch pad covers about a quarter-square mile of land, and its hardstand contains 68,000 cubic yards of concrete and is 48 feet above sea level. Launch Pad 39A is scheduled to serve as the launch platform for Atlantis and the STS-117 crew to the International Space Station this year. The mission will deliver the second and third starboard truss segments and another pair of solar arrays to the space station.

Jennifer Wolfinger, Staff Writer
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center