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The Vehicle (originally Vertical) Assembly Building, or VAB, is located at NASAmarker's Kennedy Space Centermarker. It is the fourth largest building in the world by volume. The building is at Launch Complex 39marker at KSC, halfway between Jacksonvillemarker and Miamimarker, and due east of Orlandomarker on Merritt Islandmarker on the Atlanticmarker coast of Floridamarker.

The VAB is the largest one-story building in the world, and was the tallest building in Florida until 1974, and is still the tallest building in the United States outside an urban area. The American flag painted on its south side was the largest in the world when added in 1976. The stars measure 6 feet in diameter and the stripes are 9 feet wide.

History

The VAB was originally built to allow for the vertical assembly of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo program. It is now used for housing external fuel tanks and flight hardware, and is the location of space shuttle orbiter mating (stacking) with the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank, that combined makes up the complete Space Transportation System, called the Space Shuttle for short. Once assembled, the Space Transportation System is moved on the Mobile Launcher Platform and Crawler-Transporter to Launch complex 39marker.

Size

The VAB is tall, long and wide. It covers , and encloses of space.

Each of the stars on the American flag painted on the building is across, the blue field is the size of a regulation basketball court, and the stripes are as wide as a standard road lane. The flag is high, and wide, and was added in 1976 as part of United States Bicentennial celebrations, along with the star logo of the anniversary, later replaced by the NASA logo in 1998.

The building has 10,000 pounds of air conditioning equipment including 125 ventilators on the roof supported by four large air handlers (four cylindrical structures west of the building) to keep moisture under control. Air in the building can be completely replaced every hour. The interior volume of the building is so vast that it has its own weather, including "rain clouds form[ing] below the ceiling on very humid days", which the moisture reduction systems are designed to minimize.

Structure

Being in Florida, the building was constructed to withstand hurricanes and tropical storms with a foundation consisting of 30,000 cubic yards of concrete and 4,225 steel rods driven 160 feet into limestone bedrock. The most extensive damage occurred during the storm season of 2004, when Hurricane Frances blew off 850 14 × 6 foot aluminum panels from the building, resulting in about of new openings in the sides. Twenty five additional panels were blown off the east side by the winds from Hurricane Jeanne just three weeks later. Earlier in the season, Hurricane Charley caused significant but less serious damage, estimated to cost $700,000. Damage caused by these hurricanes was still visible in 2007. It should be noted that some of these panels are "punch-outs", designed to detach from the VAB when a large pressure differential is created on the outside vs. the inside. This allows for equalization, and helps protect the structural integrity of the building during rapid changes in pressure such as in tropical cyclones.

Work began in early 2007 to restore the exterior paint on the immense facility. Special attention was paid to the enormous American flag and NASA "meatball" logo. The work repaired visible damage from years of storms and weathering. The flag and logo were repainted in 1998 for NASA's 40th anniversary, and again in 2007 due to the damage it has sustained when it was hit by several hurricanes between 2004 and 2005.

Specifications

There are four entries to the bays located inside the building, which are the four largest doors in the world. Each door is high and takes 45 minutes to completely open or close. The north entry that leads to the transfer aisle was widened by , to allow entry of the orbiter. A central slot at the center of the north entry allows for passage of the orbiter's vertical stabilizer.

To lift the components of the Space Transportation System, the VAB houses five overhead bridge cranes, including 2 capable of lifting 250 tons, and 136 other lifting devices.

Future

It is expected that, starting in 2008-2009, the Vehicle Assembly Building will begin a transition for the assembly and processing of both the Space Shuttle and the Shuttle Derived Ares I crew launch vehicle for the upcoming Constellation Program. After the Shuttle's retirement in 2010, the VAB will become the assembly facility for both the Ares I, and the unmanned heavy lift Ares V launcher for the return to the Moon in 2018.

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