Giant Ground Support for a Giant
While the rocket scientists were developing the moon rocket, another part of the MSFC team was developing the equipment that would support it on the ground. And their designs for the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) were every bit as advanced and outside the box as the rocket boys. They had to be. A vehicle this size had never been handled before.
First on the menu was a place to assemble the behemoth. It had to protect the vehicle from the elements, and it would have to be huge, to hold a 363 foot tall vehicle. Thus was the design of the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB), now called the Vehicle Assembly Building, born. It was and is the building with the fourth largest cubic interior in the world. It is so big it has its own weather. Clouds often form in its upper reaches.
The Saturn V was assembled, standing up, here. It was assembled on the platform it would rest on at Launch Complex 39 (LC-39). This platform was and is called the Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT). It is still used, in modified form, for the Shuttle, and will be used for Ares and Constellation.
The LUT consists of the platform on which the vehicle sits on hold down arms. These both support the vehicle, and keep it from lifting off until they sense that its thrust has built up to a sufficient level for it to be released.
The umbilical tower for Saturn V held nine ‘swing arms’ which carried the electrical and propellant connections to each stage, including the Apollo spacecraft. The arm at the top provided crew access to Apollo. Just before launch, the unbilicals disconnect and the arms swing away from the vehicle.
But with all this structure and a million pound vehicle on it, engineers had one bigger challenge. Getting all that from the VAB to the launch pad. Their solution was beyond elegant, but as massive as the moon rocket itself.
They designed and developed another behemoth. A huge track driven vehicle that could carry this load the 3.5 miles to the pad and keep it level the entire trip.
The vehicle was dubbed the Crawler/Transporter. And crawl it did—top speed of one mile per hour. The trip from the VAB to the pad takes about 5 hours.
Each of its four huge tracks are individually powered by four high powered electric motors. These are powered by four 1000 kw generators driven by two 2750 hp diesel engines. And by the way, it gets one mile per 150 gallons. And the Crawler weighs as much as its cargo does fully fueled—six million pounds.
Obviously, this behemoth, even without its cargo, could not crawl on a normal road. The engineers had to design and build a special ‘Crawlerway’ to support it.
This unique road is constructed of 2.5 ft of hydraulic fill--rock fragments compacted by vibration combined with sand deposited by high pressure water--3ft of graded limestone, 1 ft of selected fill, an asphalt sealer; and 4-8 in of river rock on top to reduce surface friction. It is 130ft wide overall, with two lanes. Each lane is 40ft wide with a 50ft median.