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NASA's historic countdown clock is ticking again for Florida launch spectators

NASA's iconic countdown clock is now back in use at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)
March 3, 2016

— NASA's historic countdown clock, which the space agency retired and replaced two years ago, has been restarted for a new audience of launch spectators.

Relocated from NASA's Kennedy Space Center press site, where it stood for more than four decades, to just outside the entrance to the Florida spaceport's visitor complex, the clock was used on Tuesday (March 1) to count down to its own rededication.

"3, 2, 1 Lift-off!" announced Therrin Protze, chief operating officer for NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, as confetti launched from behind the ten-foot-tall (3 m) and 26-foot-long (8 m) clock. "Outstanding!"

Considered one of the most-watched time-keeping devices in the world, the blue and black countdown clock first went into service before the second moon landing mission.

"This clock was built back in '69 and was in place, its first launch was Apollo 12," recounted Bob Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center and a former shuttle astronaut. "It supported all the rest of the Apollo missions, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, Skylab and 30 years of space shuttle. It really is historic."

The clock was damaged by a hurricane in 2004, but NASA was able to repair it to finish out the space shuttle program seven years later.

"When the shuttle program ended, we decided it was time to move into the 21st century," said Cabana said.

NASA's modern countdown clock, as seen during its inaugural use at the Kennedy Space Center press site in 2014. (collectSPACE)

The press site's new digital clock features a full-color video display, similar to the type found in sports stadiums. It was put into service in December 2014 for NASA's Exploration Flight Test-1, the first launch of the Orion spacecraft that is being developed to fly astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.

"[It's] absolutely fabulous if you go out there and see it, big screen graphics and everything, but we didn't want to lose the historical significance to this one," stated Cabana. "It is actually on the national register of historic facilities."

The Visitor Complex, under NASA's direction, has outfitted the historic clock with a new control system and easier to replace lights used to form its digits so that it may continue to be used to count down for many more future launches.

"We were able to refurbish and place it here for everybody to remember the importance of this countdown clock – and what it represents here at NASA," Cabana said.

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