Atlas rocket workers say goodbye to Complex 36
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: February 3, 2005
After heart-felt speeches and toasts to say goodbye to the launch site that Atlas-Centaur rockets have called their Cape Canaveral home since the 1960s, the spotlights shining on Complex 36 were turned off in a ceremony following's Thursday's liftoff.
"Complex 36 is one of America's oldest continuously operating launch sites and the last of the U.S. launch sites to use a traditional blockhouse to control the launch," Jim Sponnick, Lockheed Martin's vice president for the Atlas programs, said in a post-launch ceremony from the Cape's Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center.
"It is very fitting that we pay tribute to a place that has served America and mankind so well and honor the men and woman who have given so much of themselves with the missions launched from Complex 36 to make the Atlas program what it is today."
Atlas launch conductor Ed Christiansen, still seated at his console in the blockhouse where he orchestrated the countdown, offered an emotional "toast" to the two-pad site.
"We're here in the blockhouse this morning having just launched the last Atlas 3," Christiansen said. "Last year we said farewell to Complex 36A, and this year is 36B and the blockhouse. The blockhouse is where we directly control both pads...further, it houses our ground computer system.
"Over the past several months we've all felt some sadness over the closing of our pad. However, we feel a great sense of pride, as the historical events from here are many. Some of the biggest triumphs and some of the most spectacular failures occurred under the control of these consoles.
"In the 60s, it was a real challenge to make a cryogenic rocket engine work. But the rocketeers of the time made it happen. Those are the giants that made us what we are today.
"So after 43 years and 145 Atlas-Centaur launches, we retire this blockhouse and move to the highly automated world of the Atlas 5. It is with heavy hearts that we again raise our glass over these consoles as a salute to the proud heritage of Space Launch Complex 36."
Pad 36A, which saw the first of its 69 launches in 1962, hosted its last liftoff in August 2004. Thursday's flight from pad 36B was the 76th since opening 1965. The final launches from both pads, by coincidence, carried National Reconnaissance Office payloads.
"Five months and a few days ago we launched a national security payload for the National Reconnaissance Office off the last Atlas 2AS. Tonight we launched another national security payload off the last 3B from Complex 36," said Col. Chip Zakrzewski, director of the NRO's Office of Space Launch.
"Although only a few will know the capability that has been put on orbit in these two missions, all those who cherish and strive for freedom will realize the benefits. To the Lockheed Martin team, to the whole Atlas team, farewell to the Atlas 3B and farewell to Complex 36."
Lockheed Martin evolved its Atlas 2 rockets into the Atlas 3 by introducing the powerful Russian-made RD-180 first stage engine that would become the cornerstone of the advanced Atlas 5. There were just six Atlas 3 rockets flown over the past four-and-a-half years as the vehicle accomplished its planned short life as a proving tool during the transition from the heritage systems to the next generation Atlas 5.
"Now the transition to Atlas 5 is complete and the only remaining development will focus on requirements unique to our U.S. government customers."
Atlas 5, which has the future of the Atlas program riding on it, is operated from Complex 41 at the northern edge of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The new vehicle family has completed four successful launches to date.
"As we close Complex 36 this morning, we look forward to a very long and a very successful future with Atlas 5," Sponnick said in his Complex 36 remembrance speech.
Lockheed Martin will safe and secure the complex, remove equipment and finish its work there by summer. The start-up company SpaceX hopes to lease the site from the Air Force for launches of its new Falcon 1 and Falcon 5 rockets starting no sooner than 2007. The mobile service and umbilical towers will be taken down.
"But for many of us this is a very bittersweet day. Many of you have spent your entire careers working at Complex 36. Others of us can remember how we made our first trips here when we were fresh out of college to learn the space business. We've found friendships and made many happy memories here.
"Looking at it from another point of view, Complex 36 has given us more memories than any of us ever expected. There have been many times when the Atlas program was going to launch its last vehicle. In fact, when Centaur was developed it had just one mission -- to launch a series of Surveyor spacecraft as a precursor to landing a man on the moon. The Atlas program was scheduled to end after AC-15.
"Despite the many times the Atlas program was nearing its end, this launch complex has written one of the longest and most historic chapters in aerospace history."
"I, too, would like to salute today's team and recognize the giants whose shoulders we do stand on for the great legacy of accomplishments. Our team is focused on expanding that legacy, daring to do the difficult and always stay steadfast to success one mission at a time," said Michael Gass, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager for Space Transportation.
"Ladies and gentlemen, as the lights go out on Complex 36 this morning, the sun will be rising soon with a new day dawning at Complex 41 and on the West Coast at SLC-3 East, our next era. We'll now proceed with a ceremonial closing of Complex 36 and the four decades of aerospace history that have been written here."
The next launch from Complex 41 is scheduled for March 10 when an Atlas 5 rocket will carry a mobile communications satellite into space for Inmarsat. Liftoff will be possible between 4:40 and 4:51 p.m. EST that day. The rocket has been assembled inside its vertical hangar and is awaiting attachment of three strap-on solid-fuel boosters, Atlas launch director Adrian Laffitte said. The commercial spacecraft is due to arrive at the Cape this weekend from its European manufacturing plant.
On the West Coast, meanwhile, construction crews are finishing work to overhaul the SLC-3 East pad at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base for future Atlas 5 launches there. The first mission is anticipated no sooner than April 2006 to loft another classified payload for the NRO.
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