This video of a test of the "water deluge system" of the Apollo/Shuttle/Space X launch pad motivated me to find more information on Launch Pad 39a. In the foreground, we see the top of the water tower. Near the center of the background, we see the Vertical Assembly Building. My wife and I toured the inside of that building during the Apollo era. I read that it was closed to the public when the shuttle started using it because of the danger of the solid rocket booster segments stored in the building.
The video below taught me that the machine to move the rockets to the launch pad was also the launch pad --- the Mobile Launch Pad (MLP). Given the expense of that machine, it is obvious why NASA would try to project it from the rocket's flame with a lot of water. The moving machine is basically the base of a Marion mining shovel. Even the concrete flame trench needs protection from the extreme heat. The May 31, 2008, launch of Discovery left unprecedented damage to the trench. 6:28 is a clip from Camera E-8 during a shuttle launch at 400 fps. 11:57 shows "rain birds" that spray water on top of the MLP. At 15:37 we can see many smaller streams of water flowing into the flame trench. The narration says the purpose of the water is to deaden the noise as well as to keep things cool. The trench is lined with bricks. I assume it is fire brick like those used in blast furnaces and cement rotary kilns.
This view shows the tower was moved along with the rocket. We can see some of the eight crawler tracks used to move it. I remember that Dirty Jobs did a segment that included lubricating those tracks. And then Mike Rowe drove the thing. It does 1 mph when loaded and 2 mph with no load.
Space, Photo 21 Space shuttles Atlantis (STS-125) and Endeavour (STS-400) on launch pads 39A and 39B before the Hubble servicing mission in 2008. Endeavour stands by in case of the unlikely event that a rescue mission is necessary during Atlantis' STS-125 mission to repair NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Here is a view with the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) in place. This structure was added to the pad for the Shuttle mission to protect the shuttle assembly from weather and to provide better access for loading payloads.
While searching for a video of the flames coming out of the trench, I came across an edited video of a water test. The above timestamps concerning water outlets on the pad came from the following video. The overview at 30:52 confirms what I remember --- what comes out of the flame trenches is steam, not flame.
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