NASA Kennedy Space Center by Mark A. Chambers and Michael Curie by Mark A. Chambers and Michael Curie - Read Online

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NASA Kennedy Space Center - Mark A. Chambers

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INTRODUCTION

For over half a century, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Kennedy Space Center (KSC), located on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, with several facilities on Cape Canaveral, Florida, has served as America’s primary portal to the heavens. KSC has served as the launch site for nearly all of America’s unprecedented and historic space projects and programs, including the nation’s first manned space missions that served as technological stepping stones to the ultimate goal: the technological triumph of successfully landing a man on the Moon. KSC has also served as the launch site for pioneering unmanned space programs, such as the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 deep space exploration programs, that are enabling us to explore and better understand our universe. Other historic unmanned interplanetary exploration programs have also been launched from KSC, including the Viking program of the latter 1970s, which enabled us to study the planet Mars for the first time, and the Cassini-Huygens program of the 2000s, which is still providing us with data and images of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, and their numerous moons. Following the termination of the Apollo program, KSC launched elements of space stations—Skylab during the mid-1970s and the International Space Station (ISS) during the latter 1990s and into the middle of the first decade of the 2000s—and a new space vehicle that could fly in space like an airplane, the Space Transportation System (STS), a space shuttle Orbiter mounted atop a huge external fuel tank that had a solid rocket booster (SRB) attached on both sides. Much like the earlier American manned space programs, the space station and shuttle programs proved to be highly successful.

The origins of America’s manned space program and NASA KSC existed in World War II Germany. Wernher von Braun, a brilliant civilian rocket scientist who dreamed of building rockets to transport humans to the Moon during the 1930s, was recruited by the Nazi leadership to work on Adolf Hitler’s extremely advanced vengeance weapon, the A-4 or Vengeance (V)-2 rocket. The V-2 rocket was the world’s first ballistic missile and was capable of delivering a warhead to civilian targets in England and throughout Allied Europe. The V-2 rockets were employed in concert with Vengeance (V)-1 buzz bombs, the world’s first cruise missiles. Von Braun and his team of scientists worked with German military officials to develop these wonder weapons at an experimental test site that became known as Peenemünde, situated on northern Germany’s Baltic coast.

From mid-1944 until the end of the war in Europe, the V-1s and V-2s wreaked terror, havoc, and destruction on Allied Europe’s civilian populace, striking in most cases with deadly precision. In 1943, Royal Air Force (RAF) high-altitude photo-reconnaissance flights yielded photographic evidence of Germany’s advanced technological exploits at Peenemünde. Shortly thereafter, Peenemünde was night bombed by RAF Bomber Command bombers, forcing the Germans to move V-1 and V-2 assembly and launch operations underground. As a result, the Mittelwerk V-weapon assembly facilities were constructed under Kohnstein Mountain in the Harz Mountain Range in northwestern Germany. V-2 components, specifically, were to be transferred to an elaborate series of launch prep/launch facilities, protected by an immense, thick concrete dome, at La Coupole in Nazi-occupied northern France. Several of the facilities built or envisioned for La Coupole would later, in many respects, serve as blueprints for facilities eventually erected at NASA KSC, including the Space Center’s gargantuan Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), which, volume-wise, is one of the world’s largest buildings. In the end, however, Germany’s wonder weapons proved to be too little, too late, and Germany lost the