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Historic NASA Platform Used to Launch Apollo 11 to the Moon Set for Demolition

In a move that marks the end of an era in space exploration, NASA has announced the impending demolition of the historic Mobile Launch Platform-3 (MLP-3), also known as Mobile Launcher-1 (ML-1). MLP-3 played a crucial role in the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 lunar missions, serving as the launch platform for the first astronauts to journey from Earth to the moon. After more than 50 years of storied service, MLP-3 has been relocated from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to a yard at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it awaits demolition by a salvage contractor.


John Giles, the engineering operations manager for the crawler-transporters and other large equipment in NASA's Exploration Ground Systems program at Kennedy, confirmed the plans for MLP-3's demolition. He explained that the process will commence within the next two weeks, following a thorough inspection and removal of any hazardous materials from the platform.


NASA's decision to discard MLP-3 was not publicly announced, but its relocation to the demolition site at the midfield park strongly hinted at its fate. The same location was used to demolish MLP-2 (ML-2) in 2021. According to Giles, the decision to remove MLP-3 was primarily driven by a lack of space in the VAB, which led to NASA leasing certain areas to Boeing, the lead contractor for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.


Boeing intends to use the space previously occupied by MLP-3 in High Bay 2 of the VAB for the production of future SLS core stages, streamlining and expediting the construction of the colossal boosters required for NASA's Artemis moon program. Giles stated that Boeing considered MLP-3 an obstruction to their operations and consequently requested its removal.


The mobile launch platforms used during the Apollo missions are colossal structures, weighing 8.23 million pounds (3,730 tonnes) each and measuring 160 feet long by 135 feet wide by 25 feet high (49 by 41 by 7.6 meters). Due to their immense size and mass, they can only be transported using one of the two Apollo-era crawler transporters and parked at the VAB, launch pad, or the midfield site.


Efforts were made to explore the possibility of repurposing MLP-3 as a tourist attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. However, safety concerns regarding potential hazards led to the determination that such an endeavor would not be feasible.


MLP-3 holds a significant place in the history of space exploration. In addition to supporting the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 missions, it was also utilized for the first flight of a Saturn V rocket in 1967, the three crewed launches to the Skylab workshop in 1973, and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) flown jointly with the Soviet Union in 1975. Furthermore, MLP-3 underwent modifications for the space shuttle program and supported 33 additional launches, including the first docking of a U.S. orbiter to Russia's space station Mir in 1995, the first mission to the International Space Station in 1998, and the final space shuttle launch in 2011.



With the impending demolition of MLP-3, only MLP-1 (ML-3) remains in active service, utilized for servicing the crawlerway between SLS launches. The historical significance of the mobile launch platforms prompted NASA to compile a Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documenting their construction, engineering, and use. This record is now preserved at the Library of Congress. However, NASA is not legally obligated to retain its historic hardware, and the agency has a track record of adapting and repurposing its facilities and equipment.


MLP-3 had a brief stint under the ownership of Northrop Grumman in 2019 when the company planned to utilize the platform to support launches of its proposed OmegA launch vehicle. However, after funding for the rocket fell through, MLP-3 was returned to NASA, and its fate remained uncertain.


Now, with no other users or purposes identified, NASA has transferred ownership of MLP-3 to Advon, the same construction company that oversaw the demolition of MLP-2. Advon has hired Frank-Lin Services to carry out the demolition, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.


Before the demolition, NASA salvaged some components from MLP-3, including light fixtures, doors, and the crawler-transporter lift points. These components may be reused in the construction of the Artemis mobile launchers or other projects at the Kennedy Space Center. It will be up to Advon, as the new owners of the platform, to decide if any additional parts should be set aside for historic preservation or as memorabilia.


The demolition of MLP-3 carries a bittersweet sentiment for those involved in the space industry. John Giles, who was present during MLP-3's relocation, expressed his sadness about the demolition, stating, "It's absolutely [a situation of] you do not want to have to do this. It's just necessary for the future of the space center. We need the space."


As MLP-3 faces its final days, it is a poignant reminder of the remarkable achievements and milestones that were accomplished using this iconic platform. While it will soon be gone, its legacy and the memories it holds will forever be etched in the history of human space exploration.

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