NASA to abandon historic launch pad

Published On: Jan 16 2013 06:21:50 AM HST   Updated On: Jan 16 2013 06:23:10 AM HST

NASA has just decided to abandon a historic structure -- the launch pad where the first journey to the moon began.

Launch Complex 39-A was also the starting point for many shuttle flights.

Back in the days when the echoes of Saturn V rockets boomed across the Space Coast, heroes were risking their lives to go to the moon.

In the back of every mind was always the possibility that the Saturn V could explode during fueling.

"There was about one kiloton of explosion power on that pad," said Steve Bulloch, from NASA.

That's why subterranean escape tunnels were built.

The tunnels, which are far beneath the tower of steel and mountain of concrete, feel claustrophobic, smell dusty and look abandoned.

In a worst-case scenario, astronauts would escape down a slide and shoot into a rubber room inside the tunnels.

From there, the Apollo crew would go into the blast chamber, with concrete walls 4-feet thick.

They'd strap into a steel seat, and hope to survive.

Now, NASA is about to turn out the dim emergency lights for good.

"It's very hard for people," said Bulloch. "We've had people that have spent 30 to 40 years babying this system."

The launch pad was supposed to be used for NASA's planned super-rocket, but now those future launches will be limited to Pad 39-B, the other former shuttle and Apollo launch pad.

A NASA spokesperson says several private launch companies are interested in taking over the old launch pad and keeping it in business.  But even if that happens, the fate of the old escape tunnels is uncertain.

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