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After the Shuttle Program, a Major Renovation and House Cleaning at Kennedy Space Center

February 10, 2014 | WMFE Orlando - A congressional hearing into what to do with hundreds of acres of buildings and equipment at Kennedy Space Center gets underway Monday morning. Those buildings have sat idle since the shuttle program ended. The hearing coincides with a massive transformation at the center, a push to give new life to Kennedy by converting it into the nation's premier multi-user space port.

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[Photo: Every structure supporting the shuttle program has been removed from Launch Pad 39B.]

On a rainy morning Jose Perez Morales and I pull up to Launch Pad 39B. 

Morales is a senior project manager on one of the teams supervising KSC's transformation.

39B is where a Saturn V rocket blasted off carrying astronauts on the Apollo 10 mission in 1969, the dress rehearsal for the moon landing.

Fifty-three shuttle missions also launched from here.

What was once a hulking 350-foot structure larger than the shuttle itself is now a construction zone buzzing with workers. 

Three brand-new 600-foot lightning towers ring the pad.

Morales says every structure that supported the shuttle program has been removed from 39B.

"Now that we're completely changing programs we took this opportunity to fix a lot of the problems that have been created because of the long time of the pad being in operation."

This is part of a multi-billion-dollar transformation at Kennedy Space Center that began before the end of the shuttle program in 2011.

Other buildings and assets are being demolished or repurposed including the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, where the shuttle was readied for space flight.

Bob Cabana is director of KSC.

"It's the biggest change to the Kennedy Space Center since the Kennedy Space Center was envisioned and constructed. In the past KSC has been very reliant upon a single large program providing for the maintenance and operations of the facilities here."

Now KSC is preparing for a future where private companies like SpaceX launch astronauts to the International Space Station, while NASA focuses on deep space exploration.

That’s meant a major renovation of KSC and a yard sale of sorts. Administrators are negotiating to let Space Florida oversee the old shuttle landing strip and SpaceX take over launch pad 39A, the sister pad to 39B.

They're also offering other assets for lease and even for free. One possibility for three, 8-million-pound mobile rocket launcher platforms is to sink them in the ocean as man-made reefs.

Congressman John Mica is leading the hearing into the vacant buildings and unused assets at KSC.

"We aren't discounting at garage sale prices."

He says they cost taxpayers money because they require security and maintenance. 

"When you keep those goods whether it's in your garage, and they stack up and they could be put to better use or sold and then take that capital and use it on something else."

Mica's hearing at KSC's Visitor Complex will include speakers from NASA, Patrick Air Force Base, Port Canaveral and environmentalists. 

The hearing will examine each unused building and asset and also try to clarify the vision for the Space Coast's future.

At 39B the vision is a "clean pad," one that’s flexible enough to blast NASA's next spacecraft, Orion, to an asteroid and Mars and also accommodate private companies launching to the International Space Station.

More than 7 million pounds of steel and a million feet of cable have been removed from the pad. All of it was recycled. Morales estimates the project's total cost at more than $3 million. He says it’s worth it.

"We have about five or six commercial vehicles that we analyzed, you know, and we could support any launch for those commercial vehicles from here."

Next for 39B is an unmanned test flight of Orion scheduled in December 2017. At that point its transformation will have been more than a decade in the making.


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