Just 18 months after program managers broke ground on the new crew access tower at SLC-41, representatives from ULA, Boeing, and NASA watched today as a crane team from Hensel Pehlps lifted the Crew Access Arm and White Room into place on the 12th level of the Crew Access Tower.
ULA’s Barbara Eagan, Commercial Crew Program Manager noted the historic event: “The mate of the crew access arm and white room is an important step towards bringing human space flight back to US soil. John Glenn was the first human to orbit Earth and rode on an Atlas LC3B rocket in 1962. At this pad, the Voyager Spacecraft was launched on a Titan Centaur. The next leap to the future is to have commercial crew astronauts launch atop an Atlas V. It is a respect and an honor for ULA to send our astronauts to space.”
Boeing’s Chris Ferguson, director of Spaceflight Operations recalled that it was Gordon Cooper who last launched atop an Atlas Rocket. He called the Crew Access Tower the most visible change to the Cape Canaveral coastline since the 1960’s. The Crew Access Tower visually stands out because the launch complex is a “clean pad” with only the hard stand and four lightning towers in place.
The crew access tower was built offsite and then integrated at Pad 41, with work happening between 11 launches. The steel access arm and aluminum White Room stretch almost 50 feet and weight about 90,000 pounds. The tower’s steel frame will weigh more than a million pounds when completed. White Rooms are longstanding fixtures of human flights into space. They function as clean rooms that prevent contaminants, such as dirt, dust or stray hair from getting inside a spacecraft during operations at the launch pad. NASA astronauts will walk through the Crew Access Arm and Clean Room on their way to board the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft stacked atop an Atlas-V rocket.
The final piece of the arm can slide up, the rocket moves into place, then the connection slides down to meet the rocket. An inflatable environmental seal will fill the final gap to the spacecraft. This environmental seal will be added to the arm in the next 2-3 months.
The tower will be able to handle 20 people, although there are no plans to have that many on the tower on launch day. The Starliner is designed to transport up to 7 crew members or a mix of crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations. For missions to the International Space Station, the Starliner will carry up to four crew members and cargo. The Starliner is designed for land-based returns and has completed several landing tests in the Nevada desert. It has also completed successful water-landing tests to ensure safe performance in all landing scenarios.