The keys to NASA’s historic launch Pad 39A that propelled humanity’s first man to walk on the Moon – Neil Armstrong – during the history making flight of Apollo 11, have been handed over to new owners, namely the private aerospace firm SpaceX for a new purpose – serving as a commercial launch facility.
SpaceX was founded by billionaire, entrepreneur and space visionary Elon Musk.
SpaceX aims to give the now dormant pad a new lease on life in the emerging New Space era by revitalizing it as a commercial launch site for the company’s mammoth new Falcon Heavy rocket, currently under development, as well as for manned launches of the firm’s human rated Dragon spacecraft atop the Falcon 9 according to Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.
“We’ll make great use of this pad, I promise, ” Shotwell told reporters at a briefing at the pad.
The liquid fueled Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in the world according to SpaceX, generating generating nearly four million pounds of liftoff thrust from 27 engines and thus significantly exceeding the power of the Delta IV Heavy manufactured by competitor United Launch Alliance.
The Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser are also vying for the next round of private ‘space taxi’ funding from NASA.
Pad 39A has been inactive and mothballed since the last shuttle mission, STS-135, thundered to space in July 2011.
Not a single rocket has rolled up the ramp at KSC in nearly 3 years.
The new lease agreement was signed by NASA and SpaceX officials and announced onsite at Pad 39 at the briefing.
“Today this historic site from which numerous Apollo and space shuttle missions began and from which I first flew and left the planet on STS-61C on Columbia, is beginning a new mission as a commercial launch site, ” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
“While SpaceX will use pad 39A at Kennedy, about a mile away on pad 39B, we’re preparing for our deep space missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars. The parallel pads at Kennedy perfectly exemplify NASA’s parallel path for human spaceflight exploration — U.S. commercial companies providing access to low-Earth orbit and NASA deep space exploration missions at the same time.”
Under terms of the new agreement with NASA, the lease with SpaceX spans 20 years.
“It’s exciting that this storied NASA launch pad is opening a new chapter for space exploration and the commercial aerospace industry, ” said Bolden.
SpaceX will also maintain and operate Pad 39A at its own expense, with no US federal funding from NASA.
The next Falcon 9 liftoff with an unmanned Dragon cargo freighter is currently slated from Friday, April 18 following Monday’s scrub.
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