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Bring Your Umbrellas; It’s Raining Inside

“The NASA Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, is SO BIG it has its own weather systems! Clouds, rain, fog—you name it!” Sorry, no snow. It’s Florida. That’s the story that started circulating during the construction of the world’s largest one-story building. Started in 1963, the 526-foot-tall behemoth was finished in 1966 to house the giant, 326-foot-tall Saturn V rockets that took men to the moon.

The raison d’être of the Vehicle Assembly Building is to complete the final assembly of massive spacecraft before they’re wheeled out to the pad on that giant creepy crawler. So, the inside needs to be big enough to house the whole shebang standing upright, with lots of room to spare above for cranes and future (perhaps taller) rockets. To put things in perspective, the Saturn V rocket is about 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Imagine having that piece of sculpture entirely indoors.

After the Apollo program ended, the VAB was used for Skylab and 135 Space Shuttle missions. Currently, it’s back in service for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis program.

NASA Vehicle Assembly Building Fun Facts

How big is it? Try ginormous. The average “story” in a building is about 10-14 feet, depending on building materials used and such. The first floor of the VAB is about about 52 stories tall in the area NASA calls the high bay. And there are four high bays, so back in the glory days of Moon landings, multiple Saturn Vs could be assembled in the VAB concurrently.

There are multiple cranes inside to hoist spaceships into position. Two of them are capable of lifting 650,000 pounds each. No sweat lifting an entire space shuttle, which only weighs about 165,000 pounds empty. If you loaded to the limit, one of those cranes could lift 162 average automobiles or 120 Tesla Model Xs. Those batteries are heavy.

When finished, rockets need to get out to the launch pad, so the VAB has some of the biggest doors in existence—465 feet tall. The overlapping door panels take about 45 minutes to open or close, so I suppose one has to plan ahead when leaving for the night.

Holding all that expensive rocketry gear takes a lot of space, and the VAB is one of the largest interior spaces in the world by volume. The interior space measures 129,488,000 cubic feet. That’s almost four Empire State Buildings worth of room inside. In more practical terms, you could fit 44,262,234,814 iPhones in there, or for you foodies, almost three billion corned beef sandwiches.

Weather? Or something less?

When you’re dealing with that much un-air-conditioned space, it’s going to get a bit weird at times. Leave the wrong doors open and closed when there are high winds outside, and you might encourage dangerous wind-tunnel effects inside. No one wants billion-dollar rockets tipping over like a Miller Lite longneck, so NASA has developed limits, weather triggers and procedures to govern the status of various doors.

If you forget to turn on the AC during off-the-charts Florida heat and humidity conditions, you can facilitate what some might arguably define as “weather.”

Hot, humid air inside the VAB will normally rise, and as it goes up, and up and up, the moisture in that hot air can condense, creating condensation on stuff at the upper reaches. As that accumulates, the water can fall (drip, really) and voila! With a bit of exaggeration, some might call it rain.

But that assumes no one remembered to turn on the massive 10,000 tons of air conditioning in the building. NASA says the giant air handlers can circulate all the air in the facility in an hour. Given that A/C keeps the relative humidity inside low, that’s another strike against the claim of clouds and rain inside.

Leave it to the rocket scientists…

To ruin your day. As it turns out, while there are lots of stories that have circulated for the past 60 years about the Vehicle Assembly Building being big enough to have its own weather systems, NASA says … no.

“Contrary to popular stories circulated during construction, the VAB, which is mostly not air-conditioned, does not create its own weather – reports of indoor rain, clouds, or fog are myths.”

Boo.

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