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Kennedy Space Center opens new areas to visitor tours

3:28 PM, Aug 2, 2012   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Behind the scenes at the Kennedy Space Center
  • Vehicle Assembly Building now open to public during tours, shuttle Atlantis on display there, first time in 30 years public has been inside
  • Public can now get within 1/4 mile of launch pad A, inside the perimeter fence

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- For 30 years, the public has not been allowed inside the Vehicle Assembly Building during tours of the Kennedy Space Center, but it's now one of several new areas now open to visitors.

The public is now allowed inside the Launch Control Center for the first time in 30 years, and the tour buses now go inside the perimeter fence around Launch Pad A, allowing the public a much closer look than ever before, about a quarter of a mile away.

"We have completed the shuttle program and now moving toward the future with the space launch system," said Andrea Farmer with the Visitors Center. "It is a point in time where there aren't hazardous chemicals in the areas like the Vehicle Assembly Building or the launch pad. So this is one of those rare opportunities in the history of NASA that we can bring the public into these areas and experience what it is like and really go behind the scenes."

The Atlantis shuttle can now be seen inside the VAB building, but next summer will be on display in a new $100 million dollar exhibit now under construction.

The VAB is the tallest one story building in the world at 535 feet tall. It is by volume the fourth largest building in the world.

"You can put the Empire State building in here, not by height, but by volume, three and three-quarter times," said tour guide Tom Harper.

The Launch Control Center is where hundreds of technicians monitor their areas of responsibility during a launch, and where the launch director oversees it all from his perch overlooking the large control center. Behind him out the window, he can see the launch pad thousands of yards away.

"To be able to see the buildings where we watched it happen while growing up, it doesn't get any better than this," said Bill Jackson of West Palm Beach who recently moved from St. Louis. "I am a retired science teacher and it is great to see this up close."

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