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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Inside, the chamber held 20 chairs, a toilet and carbon dioxide scrubbing equipment to keep the occupants alive until rescue teams arrive.

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A look down the tunnel where crews would eventually egress the tunnel to a spot 1,200 ft  west of the pad.

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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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16 responses

  1. bill arnold

    nice photos Mark that would be a great tour into some little known parts of nasa

    November 24, 2012 at 8:18 am

  2. Pingback: Dos misteriosos búnkeres de la NASA (ENG)

  3. Wonderful project. Did the author get to go down the slide!?
    The room should be rented our for use by………. I don’t really know who to be honest :)

    November 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm

  4. Jim Bouck

    My wife and I visited the rubber room about 2 weeks ago, along with a trip to the top of the launch pad, including the astronaut walk and the white room. Incredible experience! A further couple of notes about the rubber room. 1. There is as shown in one of your photos a toilet just behind the seats next to the door to the slide. 2. There is a large chart mounted on the center screen enclosure with instructions for managing the air supply, including changing of filters and the burning of “air candles” (all of which are still there). 3. The slide structure shown in several of your photos is in a separate room and gives access to the Rubber Room from the pad surface. There was a hatch door, now removed and/or covered with concrete, that astronauts and closeout crew could “slide” down to the vault in the event of an explosion or fire. The slide apparently had mixed success, one person is reported to have broken his leg using the slide. At one point a water supply was added to facilitate sliding and finally strips of slippery (???) paper were placed along the slide to improve the ride (see photos). The paper is still there, more than 40 years later. 4. There is a story, “not confirmed”, that 2 workman on the second shift decided to test out the slide. According to the story, they successfully made it to the bottom of the slide only to find the very large and heavy door to the circular room and the exit, was locked from the inside. After determining that their cell phones got no signal, they attempted to climb back up the slide. After many unsuccessful attempts, one of the pair stripped and finally succeeded in reaching the surface and called for help. Don’t know what happened to the daring duo, but they likely would have been rescued at the end of their shift. NASA has a badge exchange policy for the pad, so that anyone visiting the pad exchanges their ID for a pad visitor badge. At the end of the shift, someone would have checked and found the 2 ID’s and gone looking for them. Great photos. Thanks.

    November 29, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    • Thanks for the reply, Jim! Some very interesting info you have posted. I had heard about the guy breaking his leg, but I had not heard the story about the others getting trapped. That would not have been a good feeling!

      November 30, 2012 at 12:12 am

    • Jeff Barnes

      I would love to know how you were able to get that tour. Was it connections or is it possible for the general public?

      December 5, 2012 at 11:05 am

  5. Kev

    Fantastic article, it really makes you take on board the level of incredible dangers that the Apollo team faced.
    Whenever I visit KSC I get a shiver down my spine thinking of the bravery, technology and determination that shaped the space age!

    December 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm

  6. Was guided by a dear NASA/USA friend in there right after the last Space Shuttle mission (Summer 2011) and told the rubber coat at the end of the slide was added later, after a few tests, to slow down the rescued guys, going really fast, so they wouldn’t smash on the concrete wall at the end of the slide. Took some pictures and put them in my Houston / Cape Kennedy photo album : http://www.chez-pierre.net/photo/index.php?/category/1

    December 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm

  7. Winston

    I’d love to see exactly what scenario they came up with that would require such a room with that many seats while allowing enough time and advance warning before the explosion for everyone to actually get there and close the vault door.

    December 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

  8. Kevin Stone

    Small typo: In the event of a possible explosion, astronauts would have *excited* the capsule

    December 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

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  10. Kevin Lahey

    Wow, 40 feet below the pad? Given how close all of Florida is to the water line, that room and tunnel must’ve been interesting to build!

    December 28, 2012 at 6:45 pm

  11. @Kevin : don’t forget the pad is higher than the ground. If I remember well, the room is around sea level. I didn’t have to take any stairs to go down ;-)

    December 29, 2012 at 3:50 am

  12. Pingback: NASA’s rubber room

  13. Fargin Bastiges

    Here’s how it used to look:

    January 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm

  14. Pingback: Inside NASA’s Rubber Room below the Kennedy Space Center launch pad | Stock Market News - Business & Tech News

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