Ceremonies at Completion

With construction nearing completion, Kennedy Space Center celebrated two formal dedications in the spring of 1965. On 14 April, 30 dignitaries came for the topping-out ceremonies at the vehicle assembly building: officials of KSC, the Corps of Engineers, the newly renamed Eastern Test Range, U.S. Steel, the Morrison-Knudsen, Perini, and Hardeman consortium of contractors, and the design team of Urbahn-Roberts-Seelye-Moran. In a brief address, Debus stated:

This building is not a monument - it is a tool if you will, capable of accommodating heavy launch vehicles. So if people are impressed by its bigness, they should be mindful that bigness in this case is a factor of the rocket-powered transportation systems necessary to provide the United States with a broad capability to do whatever is the national purpose in outer space....42

In a less formal, but equally effective way, Ben Putney summed up the workers' feelings when he quipped: "This is the biggest project we've ever worked on. There just ain't nothing bigger!" American Bridge's senior construction superintendent, John Pendry, said of the VAB: "You can't call it a high-rise building, it's more like building a bridge straight up."

Although workers had topped out the structural steel in the VAB, the work was far from finished. Steven Harris, VAB project manager, noted that one of the biggest tasks was keeping up with evolving equipment as the work went along. He remarked: "The VAB was designed and is being constructed concurrently with the development of the Saturn V vehicle, and any changes made on the vehicle or its support equipment may require changes in the building."43 At the time he was speaking, designers had already incorporated some 200 changes into the VAB since construction began, the most recent being modification of the extensible platforms as required by the final design of the mobile launcher.

The formal opening of KSC headquarters on 26 May provided another opportunity for ceremonies. Prior to the formalities, a 40-piece Air Force band entertained the guests. Maj. Gen. Vincent G. Huston, Commander of the Air Force Eastern Test Range; Maj. Gen. A. C. Welling, head of the Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division; and Col. W. L. Starnes, Canaveral District Engineer, shared the podium with Debus, who thanked the Administration, the Congress, NASA, and the American people for the faith they had placed in the KSC team. Then he handed American and NASA flags to members of the security patrol who raised them to the top of the pole in front of the new headquarters.44

At the same time, the people who were going to support, maintain, and operate these facilities and their equipment had begun to move in. By mid-September "Operation Big Move" had brought 7,000 of KSC's civil service and contractor employees from scattered sites at Cocoa Beach, the Cape, and Huntsville to Merritt Island, mostly to the industrial area; 4,500 more would move to Merritt Island during the following months, mostly into the VAB. During 1965 the civil service personnel at KSC rose from 1,180 to more than 2,500, chiefly through the addition of the Manned Spacecraft Center's Florida Operations and the Goddard Space Flight Center's Launch Operations Division; the latter specialized in unmanned launches.45 Even more significant for many than the physical move was the psychological move from the "pads where they had their hands in the operation" to desks where they directed the actions of others.

This description of the spaceport's construction has emphasized the material and the contractual. A later chapter will discuss the intermittent walkouts that made some wonder if the contractors would ever finish. This chapter has dealt little with the human side of the workmen who slaved and sweated and suffered - and in a few instances died as a result of accidents. On 4 June 1964, workers were stacking concrete forms for the third floor deck in the low bay area of the VAB. Apparently, the forms became overloaded and collapsed. Five men fell and were injured, two seriously. A month later, on 2 July 1964, Oscar Simmons, an employee of American Bridge and Iron Company, died in an accidental fall from the 46th level of the VAB. On 3 August 1965, lightning killed Albert J. Treib on pad B of launch complex 39.46

To some, construction at KSC was just another job. Others, however, were keenly aware of the contribution they were making to the task of sending the first man to the moon and bringing him back safely.

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