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The Vehicle (originally Vertical) Assembly Building, or VAB, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is a building designed to assemble large space vehicles, such as the massive Saturn V and the Space Shuttle. The future Space Launch System (SLS) will also be assembled there.

At 3,664,883 cubic meters (129,428,000 cubic feet) it is one of the largest buildings in the world by volume.[1] The building is at Launch Complex 39 at KSC, halfway between Jacksonville and Miami, and due east of Orlando on Merritt Island on the Atlantic coast of Florida.[1]

The VAB is the largest single-story building in the world,[2] was the tallest building (160.3 m) in Florida until 1974,[3] and is still the tallest building in the United States outside an urban area.[3]


The VAB, which was completed in 1966, was originally built to allow for the vertical assembly of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo program and referred to as the Vertical Assembly Building. In anticipation of post-Saturn projects such as the Space Shuttle program, it was renamed to the Vehicle Assembly Building after the Apollo program,[4][5] and was used for the shuttle's external fuel tanks and flight hardware, and to mate the Space Shuttle orbiters to their solid rocket boosters and external fuel tanks. Once assembled, the complete Space Shuttle was moved on the Mobile Launcher Platform and Crawler-Transporter to LC-39 Pad A or B.



VAB during construction (1965) with the Mobile Launcher Platform and tower assemblies for the Saturn V rocket.

The VAB is 526 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) tall, 716 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) long and 518 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) wide. It covers 8 acres (Template:Convert/pround ha), and encloses 129,428,000 cubic feet (Template:Convert/round m3) of space.[6]

The building has at least 10,000 tons 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",[7] which the moisture reduction systems are designed to minimize.

Located on Florida's Atlantic coast, 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.


Space Shuttle Discovery lowered toward external tank and solid rocket boosters (STS-124)

A crane lowers Discovery toward the SSET and SSSRBs in high bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building for STS-124.

VAB transfer aisle

Endeavour on its way into the VAB. At the top of the doorway is the slot for the vertical stabilizer

There are four entries to the bays located inside the building, which are the four largest doors in the world.[citation needed] Each door is 456 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) high, has 7 vertical panels and 4 horizontal panels, and takes 45 minutes to completely open or close. The north entry that leads to the transfer aisle was widened by 40 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) to allow entry of the shuttle orbiter. A central slot at the north entry allowed for passage of the orbiter's vertical stabilizer.

To lift the components of the Space Transportation System, the VAB housed five overhead bridge cranes, including two capable of lifting 325 tons, and 136 other lifting devices.


VAB aerial 1977

The building in 1977, with the Bicentennial Star opposite the flag. The Bicentennial Star was painted over with the NASA insignia in 1998. Note the Space Shuttle Landing Facility at upper left.

The American flag painted on the building was the largest in the world when added in 1976 as part of United States Bicentennial celebrations, along with the star logo of the anniversary, later replaced by the NASA insignia in 1998. It is 209 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) high, and 110 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) wide. Each of the stars on the flag is 6 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) across, the blue field is the size of a regulation basketball court, and each of the stripes is 9 feet (Template:Convert/pround m) wide.[8]

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" insignia. The work repaired visible damage from years of storms and weathering. The flag and logo had been previously repainted in 1998 for NASA's 40th anniversary.[9]

Vehicle Assembly Building damage from Hurricane Frances night view

Repair work after Hurricane Frances

The most extensive exterior 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 40,000 square feet (Template:Convert/pround m2) of new openings in the sides.[9][10] 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. 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.

The building has been used as a backdrop in several Hollywood movies including Marooned, SpaceCamp, Apollo 13, Contact, and others.


Space Shuttle Discovery in NASA's VAB

Discovery in the Vehicle Assembly Building waiting for a ferry flight to Washington DC for permanent display at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.

The Space Shuttle was retired in 2011 after which NASA temporarily (as early as 2012) offered public tours of the VAB. These tours were discontinued in February 2014 to allow for renovations to take place.[11]

The NASA FY2013 budget included $143.7 million USD for Construction of Facilities (CoF) requirements in support of Exploration programs including Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). NASA began modifying Launch Complex 39 at KSC to support the new SLS in 2014, beginning with major repairs, code upgrades and safety improvements to the Launch Control Center, Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the VAB Utility Annex. This initial work will be required to support any launch vehicle operated from Launch Complex 39 and will allow NASA to begin modernizing the facilities, while vehicle-specific requirements are being developed.[12]

The VAB could be used to some extent for assembly and processing of any future vehicles utilizing Launch Complex 39. On June 16, 2015, NASA released an announcement for proposals (AFP) seeking interest in using the VAB High Bay 2 and other complex facilities for commercial use in "assembling, integration, and testing of launch vehicles." This move is in line with the intent to migrate KSC towards acting as a spaceport accessible to both government and commercial ventures.[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 NASA (1999). "Vehicle Assembly Building". NASA. Retrieved September 23, 2007. 
  2. PR Newswire Association LLC (2007). "Groundbreaking Digital Experience for Endeavour Shuttle Launch". PR Newswire Association LLC. Retrieved September 23, 2007. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Vehicle Assembly Building". Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  4. "VAB Nears Completion". NASA. Retrieved September 25, 2014. "The new name, it was felt, would more readily encompass future as well as current programs and would not be tied to the Saturn booster." 
  5. Template:Cite book
  6. VAB on
  7. NASA (2006). "Glossary". NASA. Archived from the original on November 1, 2007. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  8. Template:Cite news
  9. 9.0 9.1 Mansfield, Cheryl L. (11 January 2007). "Restoring Old Glory and a Massive Meatball". NASA. Retrieved July 11, 2007. 
  10. Template:Cite news
  11. Rocket Renovations Will End Public Tours of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building
  12. NASA FY13 Budget
  13. NASA Solicits Proposals for Use of Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 2

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Miami-Dade County Courthouse
Tallest Building in Florida
Succeeded by
Independent Life Building
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