A Delta-II rocket, known as a workhorse that had launched 155 missions over nearly 30 years, has joined the historic lineup at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Rocket Garden.
United Launch Alliance provided the final Delta II rocket that was manufactured, but never launched, to the space attraction, and ULA, NASA and Air Force officials were on hand to welcome it as the 9th rocket in the garden at a at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning. “This is a monumental occasion as the legacy of Delta II will be preserved here for years to come, taking its place among the iconic giants here at the Rocket Garden,” said ULA launch operations official Ron Fortson. “This is the final Delta II and since it won’t be launching ... couldn’t think of a better place for it to be than right here.” It joins other iconic hardware in the garden including the Delta Thor, Mercury-Redstone 3, Mercury Atlas, Gemini Titan, Juno 1, Atlas Agena and a massive Saturn 1B.
The rocket, which had its first mission on Valentine’s Day in 1989, and final launch in September 2018, flew 54 for NASA including the Mars Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity rover missions. The rocket flew many of its mission for the Air Force including the placement of GPS satellites into orbit. The current 45th Space Wing Commander Brigadier Gen. Stephen G. Purdy Jr. praised the aspects of the rocket that earned it its workhorse nickname. “I like this rocket a lot,” Purdy said, comparing it to the current ULA rockets being used including the Atlas V and Delta IV. “This rocket, though, I’ve always been kind of been a little biased toward. The other rockets we were talking about before the ceremony, they’re kind of majestic. They’re slow. They take their time to get off the pad. This one’s in a hurry to get its job done. This one moves. ... As soon as this thing lights, boom. Gone. Almost like it’s impatient and it wants to get going. I really like that kind of a mindset.”
NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana spoke on how the Delta II’s addition to the visitor complex brings up similar feelings from when Space Shuttle Atlantis joined the attraction.
“That’s a real rocket behind us. It could have flown in space, but instead, just like Atlantis, it’s on its second career right now,” Cabana said. “Now a lot of us end up on second careers, right? And it’s on a mission of inspiration for the future generations..” Cabana said the Delta II stands in front of what will be the entrance of a new attraction at the visitor complex about the future of space that will be opening in 2022.