Historic NASA Launch Platform Will Be Demolished


The space shuttle Atlantis on Mobile Launcher Platform-2 prior to launch on May 14, 2010.
The space shuttle Atlantis on Mobile Launcher Platform-2 prior to launch on May 14, 2010.
Image: NASA

NASA’s Mobile Launcher Platform-2—a structure involved in the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions—is in the process of being torn down. Incredibly, the space agency is ridding itself of the massive platform to make room for parking spaces, as collectSpace reports.

In a matter of weeks, Mobile Launcher-2, or MLP-2, will be no more.

Built more than 50 years ago, the historic NASA launcher was involved in such notable missions as Apollo 12 and 14 (both crewed missions to the Moon), Skylab (a precursor to the International Space Station), and every inaugural Space Shuttle launch save for Columbia. More dubiously, MLP-2 was the platform from which the Challenger shuttle made its final, tragic flight in 1986. In total, MLP-2 was involved in over 50 launches from 1968 through 2011. So yeah, a lot of history tacked onto this hulking 160-foot-long, 135-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall structure (if you want more details about MLP-2, including a list of every NASA mission it was involved in, be sure to check out this extensive fan page).

The Saturn V rocket used for Apollo 12, as it rests on MLP-2 in 1969.
The Saturn V rocket used for Apollo 12, as it rests on MLP-2 in 1969.
Image: NASA

As Robert Pearlman from collectSPACE reports, NASA made the decision to demolish the platform for a reason that’s all too banal.

Given its history, “it might be expected that MLP-2 would be retired as a museum artifact,” wrote Pearlman, or that “it might continue to serve some purpose, as the two other Apollo and shuttle legacy mobile launch platforms have and are doing.” But as Scott Tenhoff, project manager for MLP-2's demolition, told Pearlman, the space agency is getting rid of the platform “because we’re running out of parking places.”

Oof.

As Pearlman rightly points out, NASA has two similar platforms, MLP-1 (formerly ML-3) and MLP-3 (formerly ML-1). Built between 1963 and 1965, these three platforms were assembled for the Saturn V, Saturn IB, and Saturn INT-21 rockets (the latter of which never took flight). Following Apollo, the structures were transformed, renamed, and put to use for the Space Shuttle Program.

But NASA is now entering into the Artemis era, and the old-timey platform can’t support the weight of NASA’s upcoming megarocket, the Space Launch System, nor an umbilical tower to support its launch, according to collectSPACE. To that end, NASA completed a new platform in 2018 called ML-1 and began construction of a second, to be called ML-2, last year. That’s a lot of huge hardware lying around, leading to the decision to dismantle MLP-2.

Mobile Launcher Platform-3 as it appeared in 2011.
Mobile Launcher Platform-3 as it appeared in 2011.
Image: NASA

Neither MLP-1 or MLP-3 (pictured above) are currently slated for demolition, and MLP-1 is currently being used to prepare crawlerways (the paths taken by the mobile launchers to the launch pad) for the forthcoming Space Launch System. As NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems explained in a recent tweet, MLP-1 will ensure that the “path is strong enough to support the weight for the upcoming @NASAArtemis I launch,” which could happen later this year.

The demolition process is expected to take about one month. The contractors doing the work, Frank-Lin Services of Brevard, are using excavators with hydraulic shears to cut the platform down section by section until it is no more, Tenhoff told collectSPACE.

Prior to dismantling Mobile Launcher-2, NASA had asked around if anyone had interest in salvaging bits from the gigantic structure, including the Smithsonian. No one responded.

It’s easy to be cynical about all of this, especially the whole parking lot thing, but sometimes you just gotta move on. Hopefully some smart people are taking away the important bits, like a number plate or something of similar nostalgic value. Storing this gigantic structure next to a museum is obviously not plausible, but it would make sense to showcase some of its parts. MLP-2 is just far too iconic to be thrown away and forgotten.