Space Launch Complex 36 was originally designed as a complex with a single launch pad. It is tucked in at the bottom of ICBM Road just south of LC-11. The complex was built in 1961 for the Atlas rocket development program. The first rocket launched from LC-36A was an Atlas/Centaur test flight on May 8th 1962. The flight ended in an explosion due to a failure of the Atlas booster.
Complex 36 was the birthplace of NASA’s planetary launch program and was operated by NASA until the late 1980s when it was taken over by the USAF.
Launch Pad 36B is clearly an unplanned addition to the complex. LC-36A is directly opposite the blockhouse with the cabling conduits leading straight to the pad. LC-36B is almost at right angles to the blockhouse with extended cabling leading out to the pad. LC-36B was built and commissioned in 1963/4 with its first flight on August 11th 1965.
Complex 36 hosted many historic missions over the years including Surveyor that landed on the moon and Mariner that orbited Mars and included one to Mercury. Two of the most historic launches were the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes that were launched to Jupiter and are now outside of the solar system in interstellar space. Also, the historic Pioneer Venus spacecraft included an orbiter and a set of probes that were dispatched to the surface.
The last launch from Complex 36A was an Atlas IIAS/Centaur carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload on August 31, 2004. This was followed on February 3, 2005 by the final Atlas V launch from Complex 36B before the pad was deactivated. In all, the complex supported 68 major launches from Pad 36A and 77 from Pad 36B.
“Over nearly five decades, Complex 36 was one of the world’s most important and versatile space launch sites. Its credits include a whole catalog of NASA missions to the moon, Venus, Mars and Jupiter – not to mention vital national security and commercial satellite missions,” said Mark Cleary, 45th Space Wing historian.
The last rocket flown from LC-36 was an Atlas V which is still a current launch vehicle. Current Atlas missions are launched from complex 41 to the north of the AFS.