Inside NASA’s Mysterious Rubber Room
Ever since learning about the Rubber Room and Blast Room deep below launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center I had been hopeful that I would one day get to photograph this mysterious remnant of the Apollo Program. I had seen very few photos of this room online and by talking to friends at KSC I seemed to have confirmed that access to this underground bunker had been very limited over the years. Following the end of the Shuttle Program and safing of the launch pads, access has become a little bit easier. There are two Rubber and Blast Rooms built to identical blueprints, one under launch pad 39A and another under 39B. Just recently, the rooms under 39B were closed off due to concerns from peeling lead based paints, which were commonly used during the era. Luckily for me, due to a different contractor building launch pad 39A, the Rubber and Blast Rooms were painted using non-lead based paint and is in much better shape allowing for the occasional visit. I would finally get the chance to enter the Rubber Room for an assignment with SpaceflightNow.
Launch Pad 39A was the starting point of all the Saturn V rockets to the moon except for Apollo 10. Before each mission, each astronaut was trained on how to use the room. An exploding Saturn V was calculated to have the power of a small nuclear bomb and an explosion would have completely destroyed the 36-story rocket and leveled the launch pad. NASA needed to come up with a series of contingencies to keep astronauts and pad workers safe in the case of a suspected problem that would lead to an explosion. One of these contingencies was a room located 40ft under the top of the launch pad. The room was accessed via a 200ft long slide from the base of the mobile launch platform. In the event of a possible explosion, astronauts would have exited the capsule and entered into a rapid descent elevator that would have got them to the base of the MLP in 30 seconds (this doesn’t seem very rapid to me). After reaching the base, they would jump into the slide taking them to the rubber room. After arriving inside the rubber room, they would take a few short steps over to the Blast Room, closing the armored door behind them. The room, with its floor mounted on a series of springs, has 20 chairs, enough for the astronauts and closeout crew and could be accommodated for 24 hours. Due to the fact that a fire would in most cases start at the base of the rocket and the time it would take for astronauts to reach the slide, the room was primarily designed for the close-out crew. The astronauts had another option of baskets and slide wires that would take them away from the pad and to safety, similar to what was used during the Space Shuttle Program.
Accessing the rooms was not what I expected at all. From the West facing side of the pad you enter into the Environmental Control Systems Room (ECS), this room is responsible for producing the clean air that is fed into the Mobile Launch Platform, Payload Change-out Room and other portions of the pad. After walking past a series of blowers and piping, you walk through a steel door and in front of you; you immediately notice the large bank vault looking door that leads you into the domed blast room. The room has two entrances, one that leads into the Rubber Room and another that leads into the egress tunnel that would takes you 1000ft West of the pad, which I passed when entering from the ECS. My tour would start in the Rubber Room so I proceeded through the blast room and past another large steel door. Upon entering the dimly lit room, which added to the mystique of it all, I quickly noticed how the room got it name as the walls and floor are completely covered in rubber over a soft cushion that was meant to absorb the blast. The room has been virtually left untouched since the end of Apollo and is in surprisingly good condition. The rubber floor and walls are still soft to the touch and the floor is still spongy as I walked back and forth.
The one thing I noticed about the blast room, is that when I was in there by myself and someone else walked in I could clearly feel the spring mounted floor move.
Inside, the chamber held 20 chairs, a toilet and carbon dioxide scrubbing equipment to keep the occupants alive until rescue teams arrive.
A look down the tunnel where crews would eventually egress the tunnel to a spot 1,200 ft west of the pad.
Although this room never had to be used, it still serves as somewhat of a time-capsule into the past. It was very cool to experience this room and make photos inside of it to share with those who have not seen it before.
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