WESH com is reporting that NASA's Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center is going to be "abandoned." While NASA is not planning to make use of the pad, the term may not be true if an agreement for a commercial entity to use it is concluded.
Pad 39-A launched Saturn Vs and the space shuttle
Pad 39-A is part of Launch Complex 39, which NASA built to accommodate the Apollo moon flights. It covers a quarter of a square mile and is built on a concrete hard stand 390 feet by 325 feet. Pad 39-A was the beginning point of some of the most iconic missions in the history of space exploration, including the Apollo 11 moon landing and the first flight of the space shuttle, STS-1. Pad 39-A, along with its sister Pad 39-B, was converted to space shuttle operations after the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975.
NASA selling or leasing facilities after the end of the space shuttle program
WESH.com had reported that with the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has found itself with a great deal of infrastructure that it no longer has use for. Since NASA has concluded that it needs only one pad for heavy lift Space Launch System operations, part of that infrastructure is Pad 39-A. Pad-39-B is being converted for SLS launches to start in 2017. That leaves Pad 39-A with no purpose, with a high maintenance cost.
Options include lease/sale to commercial entity or abandon in place
NASA is keen to lease or sell Pad 39-A to a commercial entity. According to a March story on SpaceflightNow.com, one of the leading contenders for the pad is SpaceX, which might launch its Falcon Heavy rocket from the launch facility. Thus far there is no word on whether SpaceX or any other commercial company is close to signing a deal.
NASA could abandon the launch pad in place, stripping it of any valuable parts, and letting the rest become prey to the effects of the Florida climate. If NASA were to leave Pad 39-A to the elements, it would have some precedence for doing so. Launch Complex 34, where the crew of Apollo 1 died and from where Apollo 7 was launched, was abandoned in place with a memorial plaque. On the other hand, Pad-39 A would count as an historical artifact and, if money could be raised, could be handed over to a museum or foundation for maintenance so that future tourists could look upon something grander than rusting metal to remember when history was made to the sound of thundering rocket engines.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.