TThe Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the world’s fourth largest building by volume. Completed in 1966, the VAB also holds the record of the largest one-story building in the world and is the tallest building outside an urban center in the United States.
At an astonishing 160 meters (525 feet) tall, 218 meters (716 feet) long, and 158 meters (518 feet) wide, the VAB covers an area of eight acres and encloses a volume of about 3,665,000 cubic meters (129,428,000 cubic feet). To get an idea of how large that is, the total volume of the VAB is about 3.75 times that of Manhattan’s Empire State Building. That’s enough space to fit the volume of Pentagon inside and have plenty of room left over!
The VAB is so large, in fact, that it has its own weather. On humid days, rain clouds can form below the ceiling, requiring about 10,000 tons of air conditioning equipment to control the moisture. With this setup, the total volume of air in the building can be replaced in only one hour.
The records held by the VAB are not limited to its interior, however. The exterior boasts one of the largest American flags, completed with 6,000 gallons of paint. At 64 meters (209 feet) high and 33.5 meters (110 feet) wide, the stars are six feet across, the stripes are nine feet wide, and the blue portion is approximately the size of a regulation basketball court.
Originally built to accommodate the vehicle assembly for the Apollo and Saturn missions, the VAB underwent renovations to support the Space Shuttle. Following the shuttle’s retirement in 2011, the VAB was modified to handle assembly of the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket that is designed to carry the new Orion spacecraft beyond Earth orbit. From this building, NASA’s space-bound vehicles leave through one of the building’s four doors. The doors, which are the largest in the world, each measure 139 meters (456 feet) high. While tall enough to easily fit the Statue of Liberty, the doors take 45 minutes to open or close.
From these doors, the six-million pound Crawler-Transporter begins the slow process of moving the space vehicles to the launch pad several miles away. At a mere one mile per hour, and a gas-guzzling 42 feet per gallon, the Crawler can position the vehicle for launch with an accuracy of one inch.
While the exterior of the VAB can be seen regularly on guided tours of the Kennedy Space Center, opportunities to view the building’s interior are a much rarer occurrence. However, the space center is a crucial part of life for most locals. In fact, in honor of the traditional blastoff countdown, the region’s area code is 3-2-1.
Know Before You Go
Up close looks at the VAB, and all of Launch Complex 39, are available by taking the bus tour offered as part of daily admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Head toward Titusville and look for the signs directing you to the KSC; you can't miss it.