Spaceflight

In Photos: NASA's Historic Launch Pad 39A, from Apollo to Shuttle to SpaceX

Hanneke Weitering |
Credit: NASA

NASA's Most Historic Launchpad

Credit: NASA

Launchpad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida sent the first astronauts to the moon, supported dozens of space shuttle missions, and now serves as a commercial launch site.

Pictured here: An aerial view of Launch Pad 39A taken during the Apollo era in 1976.

Early Construction

Credit: NASA

Construction of the launch complex began in 1963. Pictured here is the early construction phase of Pad 39A in July 1964.

A Flame Trench is Born

Credit: NASA

By September 1964, the hardstand on both sides of the flame trench beneath Pad 39A begins to take shape.

Concrete in Place

Credit: NASA

By November 1964, most of the concrete has been poured at Pad 39A.

Near Completion

Credit: NASA

Construction of Pad 39A was nearly complete by January 1965.

Warning Lights

Credit: NASA

Launch Complex 39's warning system lights, pictured here on May 25, 1966, included a light for Pad C, which was originally planned but never built.

Apollo 4

Credit: NASA

The first flight of a Saturn V rocket lifted off from Pad 39A on Nov. 9, 1967.

Apollo 6 Rollout

Credit: NASA

Apollo 6, the final unmanned test flight of the Saturn V rocket, rolls out to the launchpad in this photo taken in 1968.

Apollo 8

Credit: NASA

The first crewed spacecraft to orbit the moon, Apollo 8, stands on the launchpad prior to launch in December 1968.

Apollo 11

Credit: NASA

The Saturn V rocket that would carry Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon stands on the launchpad in 1969.

Mobile Service Structure

Credit: NASA

The Mobile Service Structure approaches the Saturn V rocket on pad 39A before Apollo 11's launch in 1969.

Mobile Service Structure

Credit: NASA

The Mobile Service Structure moves down the Pad 39A ramp during preparations for the Apollo 11 launch.

Skylab

Credit: NASA

The U.S. launched its first space station, Skylab, from Pad 39A on May 14, 1973.

Giant Erector Set

Credit: NASA

Construction of the payload changeout room for the Space Shuttle Program made it possible to install payloads while the space shuttle stands vertically on Pad 39A.

STS-1

The space shuttle Columbia, NASA's first orbiter, is showered with lights in this nocturnal scene at Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., during preparations for the first flight (STS-1) of NASA's new reusable spacecraft system. This photo was taken in March 1981 ahead of Columbia's April 12, 1981 launch. Original Image
Credit: NASA

The space shuttle Columbia, NASA's first orbiter, is showered with lights in this nocturnal scene at Launch Pad 39A during preparations for the first flight of NASA's new reusable spacecraft system. This photo was taken in March 1981 ahead of Columbia's April 12, 1981 launch.

STS-6

Credit: NASA

A view of the shuttle Challenger rolling out to the pad before its maiden launch on April 4, 1983.

Atlantis

Credit: NASA

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is pictured during the slow journey to Pad 39A from the Vehicle Assembly Building on Aug. 20, 1996, before the launch of STS-79.

STS-107

Space Shuttle Columbia hurtles through a perfect blue Florida sky following. Liftoff of Columbia on mission STS-107 occurred on-time at 10:39 a.m. EST on Jan. 16, 2003. Original Image
Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Columbia hurtles through a perfect blue Florida sky carrying mission STS-107 on Jan. 16, 2003.

Repairing Damages

Credit: Jack Pfaller/NASA

During the launch of Discovery on the STS-124 mission, Pad 39A sustained unprecedented damages to its flame trench. A section of the east wall was destroyed and debris scattered as far as the pad perimeter fence 1,500 feet (457 meters) away. [Read the full story]

STS-119

Credit: NASA

A nearly full moon sets as the space shuttle Discovery sits atop Launch pad 39A on March 11, 2009. [VIDEO: Discovery's Night Launch]

Sister Shuttles on Twin Pads

Credit: Toy Cryder/NASA

Space shuttles Atlantis (STS-125) and Endeavour (STS-400) on launch pads 39A and 39B before the Hubble servicing mission in 2008. Endeavour stands by in case of the unlikely event that a rescue mission is necessary during Atlantis' STS-125 mission to repair NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

STS-125

Under a dry, hot, cloud-washed Florida sky, space shuttle Atlantis roars off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida with its crew of seven for a rendezvous with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Original Image
Credit: NASA/Fletcher Hildreth

Under a dry, hot, cloud-washed Florida sky, space shuttle Atlantis roars off Launch Pad 39A with its crew of seven for a rendezvous with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope on May 11, 2009. [Hubble FAQ: Inside the Last Space Telescope Repair Mission]

Storm over STS-127

Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

Storm clouds roll in over Pad 39A on July 10, 2009 as space shuttle Endeavour stands awaiting the launch of STS-127. [The History of Shuttle Launch Delays]

Lightning Delays STS-128

Credit: Ben Cooper/NASA

Xenon lights and a lightning strike illuminate Pad 39A as the launch of the space shuttle Discovery is delayed due to inclement weather on Aug. 24, 2009. [VIDEO: STS-128 Shuttle Mission Boosts ISS Science]

Launch Control Center

Credit: NASA

The launch control room at Kennedy Space Center awaits the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour on March 11, 2010.

STS-133

The rotating service structure, which provides weather protection and access to the shuttle, moves into place around space shuttle Discovery on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Original Image
Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

The rotating service structure, which provides weather protection and access to the shuttle, moves into place around space shuttle Discovery on Launch Pad 39A prior to the launch of the space shuttle Discovery on Feb. 1, 2011. [Photos of Discovery's Final Mission: STS-133]

STS-134

Space shuttle Endeavour stands at Launch Pad 39A near the Atlantic seashore at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The shuttle is slated to launch on its final mission, STS-134. Original Image
Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

Space shuttle Endeavour stands at Launch Pad 39A. The shuttle launched for its final mission, STS-134, in May 2011. [NASA Launches Space Shuttle Endeavour on Final Voyage]

STS-135

Space shuttle Atlantis is revealed at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A following retraction of the pad's Rotating Service Structure on July 7. Original Image
Credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

Space shuttle Atlantis is revealed at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A following retraction of the pad's Rotating Service Structure on July 7, 2011. [NASA's Last Shuttle Mission in Pictures]

Lease Announcement

Credit: Dan Casper/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

On April 14, 2014, Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana announced that NASA signed a lease agreement with SpaceX for use and operation of Launch Complex 39A. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Gwynne Shotwell, president and CEO of SpaceX, were present for the announcement. [Read the full story]

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Author Bio


Hanneke Weitering, Space.com Staff Writer

Hanneke joined the team at Space.com in August 2016 as a staff writer and producer. She's a self-proclaimed science geek from the South with a passion for all things out of this world! She has previously written for Scholastic, MedPage Today, Scienceline, and Oak Ridge National Lab. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her home town of Knoxville, she moved to New York City and earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. To keep up with Hanneke's latest work, follow her on TwitterFacebook or Google+.