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Blasting Into The Future

Hundreds of rocket scientists and launch pad workers cheered from the sidelines Thursday as the 39-year-old Launch Complex 41 was blasted ito history with 180 pounds of explosives.

The crowd joined in the countdown preceding the demolition. "Five-4-3-2-1! Blasting into the future!" shouted Adrian Laffitte, a launch manager for rocket maker Lockheed Martin Corp., which wanted the pad flattened to make way for more modern launch facilities.

Launch Complex 41 was built in 1965 and has been the starting point for NASA's Viking missions to Mars and Voyager missions to the outer planets. It also served as the launch pad for numerous spy satellites.

By today's standards, it was obsolete. Its two launch towers were unnecessary for the company's new line of Atlas V rockets. That's why Lockheed Martin opted for the quickest, cheapest method of getting rid of them: explosion.

Like gleeful little boys, Laffitte and his colleagues could hardly wait for the demolition. Just the thought of blowing up a launch pad on purpose was irresistible for a crowd accustomed to preventing explosions at all costs.

"We're not going to kid you. This is a fun event for us," Laffitte said.

The Kennedy Space Center marked the occasion with a big party and charity fund-raiser. Hundreds of workers gathered at a safe distance to watch. Five-dollar raffle tickets were sold, along with T-shirts and other goodies to raise money for needy families at Christmas.

One of the workers was chosen to symbolically push a plunger to, setting off the explosion that brought the huge gantry tumbling down.

It will take approximately three months to cart away the 7 million pounds of steel for recycling. Officials say the new launch pad should be up and running in two years.

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