At 10:56 pm on July 20th, 1969 Commander Neil Armstrong broke boundaries when he left the confinements of his Saturn V rocket and stepped into infinite space. Armstrong and his Apollo 11 departed from earth on July 16th, after a successful liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, and traveled 240,000 miles before entering lunar orbit 76 hours later.
Located in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Kennedy Space Center continues to host NASA’s main launch site for expeditions to the stars, 50 years later. In addition to sharing the stories of daring adventurists, KSC is home to innovation, invention, and advancement for future space programs and travels.
The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) was built in the 1960s for the Apollo program and continues to be the central home location for rockets and spacecraft. It’s constructed with 65,000 cubic yards of concrete, 45,000 steel beams, and one million steel bolts.
This iconic structure stretches to cover over 8 acres of land. By volume, the VAB can fit 3-and-a-half Empire State Buildings inside, and it would take 250 billion ping pong balls to fill the interior.
The flag, painted on the outside of the building, is the largest hand-painted American flag in the world. Each star is 6 feet from point-to-point, and each stripe 8 feet wide. The blue background is the size of a regulation NBA basketball court.
The crawler transport system is used to move the mobile launch platform and rockets from the VAB to the launchpad. At a whopping 6.6 million pounds, it reaches a top speed of 1 mph and takes 7 hours to complete its journey. The point-to-point path is constructed of Alabama Tennessee River Rock, specially chosen as it does not spark when the rocks break from too much weight.
Kennedy Space Center is home to one of three, complete Saturn V rockets. The Saturn V was launched 13 times from Kennedy Space Center—with no loss of crew or payload—and was used for every one of the Apollo missions. Standing at the height of a 36-story office building, it is the heaviest and tallest rocket ever to be used in space.
The eagle was the symbol of the Apollo 11 mission and the name of the capsule that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used to land on the moon. As Kennedy Space Center shares boundaries with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, an average of 11 active nests are occupied by migrating eagles at KSC each year.
The most well-known of the nests can be seen upon arrival of the Space Center, just off of Kennedy Parkway. Large enough to fit a king-sized bed with a diameter of 7 feet (2.1 meters), this nature-made landmark is a spectacle even among rockets.
It’s no surprise that NASA engineers specialize in more than just space travel technology. The brains behind deep space operation can also be credited with the invention of many modern-day conveniences like cordless vacuums, baby food, memory foam mattresses, ear thermometers, home insulation, and camera phones.
These space explorers are the inventors behind the spinoff product you’re seeing on the shelves. (A spinoff is a commercialized product incorporating NASA technology or “know-how” which benefits the public.)
For example, ear thermometers were composed using infrared astronomy technology. According to NASA.gov, NASA instituted the same method used for measuring the temperature of stars and planets to measure the amount of energy emitted by the eardrum. This method avoids contact with mucous membranes and, essentially, eliminates the possibility of cross-infection.
While we pay tribute to the Apollo 11 crew on this iconic anniversary, 50 years after mankind’s first steps on the moon, locations like Kennedy Space Center allow us to celebrate these historical accomplishments every day.
“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”—Neil Armstrong
By Cole Wilson, contributor for Ripleys.com