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Historic Cape Canaveral tower toppled

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- A 1,300-ton structure here is demolished Aug. 6.  The 179-foot mobile service tower was used to launch 51 Atlas/Agena space launch vehicles in the 1960s and 1970s.  (U.S. Air Force photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- A 1,300-ton structure here is demolished Aug. 6. The 179-foot mobile service tower was used to launch 51 Atlas/Agena space launch vehicles in the 1960s and 1970s. (U.S. Air Force photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (AFPN) -- What took years to build required only seconds to knock down Aug. 6 when 171 pounds of strategically placed explosives toppled a historic 179-foot mobile service tower here.

The 1,300-ton structure was used to launch 51 Atlas/Agena space vehicles in the 1960s and 1970s. The most famous of those launches were five Lunar Orbiter missions for NASA in 1966 and 1967. Those missions photographed about 99 percent of the moon’s surface and helped pave the way for men landing on the moon in 1969.

The last launch from the complex was in April 1978 and then the pad was abandoned. Mother Nature then whittled away at the complex and the old tower, leaving a badly corroded structure in its wake.

Pieces of the rusty tower, along with toxic paint chips, fell to the ground over the years -- creating safety and environmental hazards.

“The demolition of this tower demonstrates our commitment to safety and a healthy environment,” said Teresa Fiorillo, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron project officer. “Yet, it’s kind of sad to see this historic structure go.”

“This is where we developed the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile,” said Col. Mark Owen, 45th Space Wing commander. “This is where we sent the launches that NASA used to help map the moon. It is key to our history. So it is kind of like seeing an old soldier go. It is sad.”

Dick Ruffe, a retired Atlas systems engineer who helped build the complex and was involved with many of the flights, was on hand to witness the demolition.

“We accomplished a lot at (the complex),” he said. “Hard to imagine it, but it’s all gone in a puff of smoke. It came down a lot faster than it went up.”

The fallen tower will be cut up and taken to a landfill where it will be buried in a special cell. It will take about six to eight months to finish cleaning up the site, officials said. Once cleaned, it will be available for industrial reuse.

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