Coast to Coast: Present and Future, Side By Side

STS-129 with Atlantis on Pad 39-A

The Ares 1-X rocket on Pad 39-B.


For the first and quite probably the last time, two different spacecraft currently sit on launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

Pad 39-A currently hosts STS-129, scheduled for launch on November 16.

Pad 39-B has the Ares 1-X test rocket, scheduled for launch on October 27.

Ares is the next-generation vehicle planned to replace the Space Shuttle, which is scheduled for retirement by the end of 2010. It’s a return to the Apollo-era technology, a capsule atop a rocket.

Pads 39-A and 39-B were once identical, but 39-B was partially deconstructed to accommodate the Ares test flight. After 1-X launches, the rest of the structure will be demolished and a new gantry will be built.

You’ll notice that the lightning rod at 39-A is atop the gantry, while over at 39-B it’s been removed and three new towers have been built nearby to draw away lightning from the vehicle.

I shot these photos today from an observation tower halfway between the two sites, less than three miles away. The Kennedy Space Center bus tour takes you to the tower, where you get a magnificent view of all the significant structures on base.

Just to the east of the observation site is the intersection where the road splits to go to Pads A and B. Below is a photo of the intersection, along with a sign displaying the message, “Ares 1-X Welcome to Pad B.” How friendly.

Choose your departure point — Pad A or Pad B.

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