Contracting for the VAB and the LCC

Four of the world's most unique buildings were to go up on Merritt Island during the succeeding years, two at one end of launch complex 39, two in the industrial area five miles south. While other structures, such as the more traditionally designed headquarters, were to be known at the center by their full titles, these four shortly became known by acronyms: the vehicle assembly building as the VAB, the launch control center as the LCC, the central instrumentation facility as the CIF, and the operations and checkout building as the O & C building. This last building was also called the manned spacecraft operations building.

The day after his visit to Florida in September 1962, President Kennedy stated at Rice University Stadium in Houston:

In the last 24 hours, we have seen facilities now being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man's history. We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket.... We have seen the site where five F-1 rocket engines... will be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile, assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48-story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.7
No doubt many of the Rice engineers and students appreciated the remarks of the President. The concept, however, still stretched beyond the imagination of the average American. He could not picture a building so huge that the Rose Bowl or the Yankee Stadium would fit on the roof. Yet this was what URSAM planned for the vehicle assembly building.

During the first half of 1963, the Corps of Engineers was still acquiring land for the spaceport and simultaneously awarding contracts for continued site preparation and utility installations. Dredging operations to provide fill for the VAB, one launch pad, and the Banana River causeway were proceeding on schedule. In the industrial area, ground-breaking ceremonies were held in January on the site of the operations and checkout building, and the Corps of Engineers awarded a contract for the construction of primary utilities to provide for a water distribution system, sewer lines, an electrical system, a central heating plant, streets, and hydraulic fill for the Indian River causeway to connect the industrial area on Merritt Island with the Florida mainland. During this same period, the Launch Operations Center began awarding the first construction contracts for structures in the industrial and LC-39 areas.

The national goal of accomplishing the manned lunar landing "before this decade is out" dramatically affected the entire building program. With a deadline, scheduling became critical. At the beginning of 1963, the Office of Manned Space Flight's "official flight schedule" called for the launch of the first developmental Saturn V in March 1966 and of the first manned Saturn V in June 1967.8 Meeting these dates was contingent upon the concurrent development of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the Apollo spacecraft, and launch facilities, and more particularly on the timely delivery of flight hardware to the launch center.

Of more immediate concern was the construction of launch facilities and checking them out many months before the first Saturn V launch. The first of December, 1965, was the most important date - the date when the launch complexes had to be ready for use. This in turn required that a number of facilities be ready by May 1965 to provide time for checking out and testing the launch complexes. Working backward from this date, LOC developed, and periodically revised, detailed schedules for completion of the construction and testing of each facility on launch complex 39 and in the industrial area. The demands of this tight schedule influenced construction as much as the development of the launch vehicle and the spacecraft.

On 31 May 1963, the Corps of Engineers advertised for bids on the structural steel and the erection of the VAB framework. On 9 July Col. G. A. Finley, District Engineer of the newly established Canaveral District of the Corps of Engineers, acting as agent for NASA, and officials of the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel Corporation, Atlanta, signed the largest single contract NASA had yet awarded for work in the Cape area. This contract, in the original amount of $23,534,000, called for furnishing more than 45,000 metric tons of structural steel and the erection of the skeleton framework of the VAB, with completion by 1 December 1964. Workmen were busy at the site the day the contract was signed. The Blount Brothers Corporation of Montgomery, Alabama, signed an $8,000,000 contract on 11 July 1963 to provide the steel and concrete foundations and flooring of the VAB, with completion by 1 May 1964. The Blount firm also started work on the day of the signing.9

Previous Page Next Page Table of Contents