Saturday, March 28, 2015

The COOL Photos section.

NOTE: Some folks post their cool photos and drawings on FaceBook,  but there is a catch. You see when you post a photo on FaceBook you give licence to everyone else on that site to use your photo any way they wish anyplace on that web site. I prefer to control my own photos. So, you are welcome to see my cool photos and stuff here... where I still own them. All photos and images as well as content here are copyright Wes Oleszewski and all right are reserved.

With many of the historic pads at Cape Canaveral being demolished and the bus tours randomly shut down for "security reasons" a lot of folks don't get to go and see these historic sites, let alone climb around on them and take cool pictures...

...but I did.

I'll be using some of these shots in my "Project Mercury" volume of my six-book series "Growing up with Spaceflight," but you get to see them first.

The parking spaces are marked for the Mercury atlas astronauts as well as the Launch Director. Thomas J. O'Malley (Seen below on the far left) NASA photo.

The LC-14 blockhouse may soon be one of the only Atlas blockhouses left standing.

Construction of the blockhouse began in early 1956.

The launch site was completed in early 1957

Launched on June 11th, 1957 this was the first Atlas to fly from LC-14.

Wanna go up?

And next... the view from the top...

Yes... this was taken when the gantry for LC-13 was still standing. We'll tour that one later.

The pad itself is in pretty rough shape...

This is where the flame bucket once resided.

This is the blast way, still sooted from the exhaust of the Atlas boosters. Note the rusty railroad rail stretching horizontally across the photo. That was one of the rails that the transfer bogie (AKA transfer table) rolled upon. The gantry had self-powered railroad  wheels on it's lower, outer frame and rails ran along the side of the pad. The transfer bogie had similar rails that were mounted horizontally on its back. When the gantry needed to be retracted it simply rolled itself back and onto the bogie. Once secured there, the bogie, which was also self-powered, rolled the whole thing off to a safe position 90 degrees east of the pad.

I was not allowed to climb all the way up the pad, the ghost of Thomas O'Malley would have frowned upon that. Of course there is a memorial to mark this historic site... reads...

Standing on the top of the blockhouse... if you squint and turn your imagination into black and white, you can almost see the glory that was once on this site (this is an author's composite image).

Watch for more fun details about project Mercury in my upcoming book...

You can read more about these pads and about a lot of other cool stuff in spaceflight series of books
Check out the e-book versions HERE

In February of 1959, ARPA contracted for the construction of a blockhouse and launch pedestal at the site on Cape Canaveral that would become known as Launch Complex 34. It was their intent to test launch a large booster that they, in a February 3rd 1959 memorandum, for the first time called "Saturn."

This launch site to, perhaps too often, remembered primarily as the place where the Apollo 1 crew died in a tragic fire. Thus it is often that it is visited with great remorse and sadness.

Although it is good and right to remember those fallen astronauts, we should not let that effort totally blot out the good and amazing things that also took place at LC-34.

With America still smarting from the first two Sputnik launches, the folks at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) came up with a super booster that they wanted to be 10 times more powerful than the Jupiter booster already in development. That meant inflating the Jupiter's 150,000 pounds of thrust to 1.5 million pounds of thrust. In mid 1958, with funding from the newly formed DOD's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) ABMA came up with a booster that they could build using existing components.It consisted of  8 Jupiter H-1 engines, 8 Redstone tanks surrounding an elongated Jupiter tank and was called the Juno V. It was intended to be simply a static firing test bed to demonstrate the clustered engine concept.

In September of 1958, before the first components of the Juno V had been assembled, ARPA changed the static-fire program to a flight program. Later the Juno V was re-named "Saturn."

Of course, if they were going to fly the rocket, they needed a place from which to launch it. That place became Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 34.

The first structure to go into construction was the blockhouse. 

Measuring 3,051 square feet inside, the blockhouse at LC-34 was modeled after the blockhouse at LC-20. Located 1,050 feet from the LC-34 launch platform the new blockhouse was covered with a domed roof whose covering consisted of an 11 foot thick inner layer of reinforced concrete and a mid layer of sand fill that ranged from 10 and one half feet thick to 13 feet nine inches thick. That in turn was capped with an eight inch thick cover of of pressure injected shotcrete. Inside, the two story structure could contain as many as 30 people for 20 hours with the blast door sealed. Two escape tunnels were provided to allow for the crew to escape should wreckage block the main door. MSFC/NASA assumed beneficial occupancy of the blockhouse on July 7th, 1960, just one week after they had also officially taken over the Saturn rocket program from the US Army. [ref.; "Moonport- a History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations" and "Saturn Illustrated Chronology, the first Eleven Years"]

Today the LC-34 blockhouse is one of the best preserved of the old blockhouses on the Cape. Although not normally open to tours, it is used to host private events. In the early 1970s it was open to the public and KSC bus tours regularly stopped there to let tourists go inside. I was there when I was 15 years old and found that its checkerboard tiled floor and periscopes were  very cool.

The launch pedestal was formed from reinforced concrete. It stands 26 feet tall and 42 feet square.

Come on!... let's go see it!

Currently, the launch pedestal is all that remains standing and is famously stenciled, "ABANDON IN PLACE"  in order to keep the scrappers from bulldozing it. The inner surfaces have recently been sheathed with metal which was painted with gray epoxy in order to protect the structure from the Florida weather and the salt air of the Atlantic.

LC-37 stands nearby and serves to launch the Delta vehicles.

In 1972 everything on the LC-37 pad that could be trucked away was sold for scrap and for many years thereafter the pad was littered with pieces of scrap metal that the junkers left behind.

On February 7th, 1973 I was on the KSC bus tour and when we walked around LC-34, among the pieces that the scrappers had dropped and left behind I found this single tiny rusting bolt.

Always of interest at LC-34 is the torus ring.

The torus ring actually served two purposes. It provided cooling water during the 3+ seconds that the Saturn booster was held down and it's H-1 engines were coming up to power and it also provided suppression water in case of an on-pad shutdown. Once the cut-off was issued by the sequencer, the ignition source would be removed from the engines, but the turbo pumps would still be spinning at high speed and gushing out LOX and RP-1. Since the 8 H-1 engines had been firing, there would be countless other residual ignition sources on the pad to ignite that mixture. Water from the torus ring would be used to suppress those ignition hot-spots.

Two "T" shaped areas of refractory brick were laid into the concrete surface of Pad 34 (as shown in the above drawing). These bricks served a very logical purpose. They were placed in areas where the deflected exhaust flames from the booster would propagate. Had that area been just a plain concrete pad and if it decided to erode in places, huge chunks for the surface would be blasted away. Thus, repairs would be extensive and likely would not hold well (see any concrete inter state highway). Bricks, however, are easily replaced and tend to hold up well after being replaced.

And speaking of flame deflection....

...LC-34 had two, 99 ton flame deflectors

These were moved by truck and rolled on railroad rails embedded in the pad's surface (look closely at the refractory bricks picture above and you'll see one of the rails)

Originally the deflectors were contracted to be 80 degree deflectors, but as those were being manufactured, the rocket folks at MSFC did additional testing and found that 60 degree deflectors worked better. Von Braun agreed and changed the contract.

The first of the two deflectors arrived at LC34 in April of 1961. Due to it's great weight it was shipped in seven sections and assembled on-site. There are two deflectors because no one really knew how well they would stand up under firing loads and if one should be damaged in a launch accident there would always be a replacement on hand.

Looking around, the complex looks more empty that it should be.

This blank wall that once protected high pressure gas storage, stands like a monolith. 

Cable and gas tunnels run under the entire pad. These empty spaces are now mostly flooded with swamp water and are great hiding places for snakes and gators. They are no place to explore even if you have brought your snake-bite kit.

This is the above ground tunnel that carried both gas lines (as well as liquefied gases) and cables.

It too is a dandy hiding place for Florida critters who do not like humans.

Here is another view of the tunnel. Do not let the pretty lush green stuff fool you, this area has been completely taken over by the snakes and critters and any wayward tourist would likely not survive the walk through this brush to the blockhouse.

Here we see the north side of the tunnel again, but if you look by the arrow you'll see the tracks where the gantry once travled. These tracks went nearly as far as the blockhouse at one time, but have now been cut off at the pad. That was because the scrappers could easily cut up and haul away the rails that were not embedded in the concrete pad.

"And what about the gantry?" you may ask.

From the moment that the Saturn booster was changed from a static firing unit to a flight vehicle, MSFC knew that they would have to service it on the pad.

So, a 309 foot tall inverted "U" shaped service gantry was designed.

The gantry, (or service tower, take your pick,) was self propelled and ran on railroad tracks. It had the ability to completely surround the launch pedestal.

It was also equipped with a 72 ton crane...

 ...that could easily hoist any part of a Saturn I or IB launch vehicle.

Later in the Apollo program the gantry was given hurricane doors and could fully surround and enclose a Saturn IB launch vehicle and it's Apollo spacecraft. So, where is the gantry today?...

...well... it should be just off to the right in this picture, but it has been gone since 1972.

The Saturn I launch vehicles were the first step in getting humans to the Moon.

Their clustered H-1 engines caused many Cape Canaveral pad rats of the early 1960s to scoff. They dubbed SA-1 as "Cluster's last stand" implying that the Saturn I would blow up.

Instead, the SA-1 vehicle lifted off  on October 27th, 1961 and flew a flawless mission. Just four months and 22 days after Alan Shepard's sub orbital flight. The Saturn I did not produce the ARPA thrust of 1.5 million pounds, but rather produced 1.3 million pounds. Still, at that time, it was the most powerful rocket on the planet.

On April 25th, 1962, SA-2 flew another successful mission from LC-34.

On November 16th, 1962 SA-3 lifted off from LC-34. It was serviced by a new launch-umbilical tower because the "long cable mast" used on the previous two missions could no longer do the job.

SA-4 was the last of the Block-I Saturn I vehicles. It departed on March 28th, 1963. Immediately after the flight LC-34 went into modification in preparation for the manned Saturn IB (Then called the "Up-rated Saturn I.") The remaining Saturn I Block II flights went to LC-37B.

LC-34 returned to active duty on February 26, 1966 with the launch of the first Saturn IB, AS-201. Three seconds after liftoff, however, the vibrations of the booster's 1.5 million pounds of thrust caused a 300 amp fuse at the pad to vibrate loose and the entire pad, including the blockhouse was plunged into darkness. No one on the ground knew what the Saturn was doing or how the flight was going. AS-201, however, just kept happily flying along. The flight was a success.

On August 25th, 1966 AS-202 was launched in a race to get off the ground before Hurricane Faith hit the cape. The launch team made it in spite of months of delays caused my faulty ground support computer equipment. The Saturn IB was now deemed ready to fly a manned Apollo.

The tragic story of Apollo 1 is well known in spaceflight circles and was the darkest day in United States spaceflight at the time. Somehow, in spite of all of the great things that had happened at LC-34 prior to that, today it seems as if that is all that LC-34 is remembered for- yet, there was still a great accomplishment in store for this historic site.

On October 11th, 1968, at 11:03 am Eastern Time, Apollo 7 lifted off from LC-34 and pulled America out of its Apollo 1 gloom and back into spaceflight. 

The mission was 110% successful and got the United States back on track to the moon.

With all that you have read here, I would ask that when you think of Launch Complex 34, or if you get the chance to visit it in person, certainly give thought and remember the fallen crew of Apollo 1. But, don't lose sight of all of the other historic successes that took place there. Try and remember what this place was like in its hay-day, when "Cluster's last stand" became America's first steps.

By the way... did I mention that I have books out about spaceflight? The "Growing up with Spaceflight" series will come out in six volumes. Volume 3, "Apollo Part 1 is now out on Kindle, Amazon and

Volume 4, "Apollo Part Two" covering Apollos 14 through 17 IS NOW available exclusively on Amazon Kindle!!

Shameless self-promotion here.