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Alabama-built ULA Delta II rocket goes on permanent display at Kennedy Space Center

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket on Tuesday took its rightful place among iconic giants in the Rocket Garden at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Built at ULA’s world-class facility in Decatur since it opened in 1999, the Delta II served as a venerable industry workhorse, launching 155 times.

Beginning in 1989, the rocket powered many landmark missions, including NASA’s rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Phoenix Mars Lander, ICESat-2, all operational GPS missions through the constellation of 21 Global Positioning System (GPS) II-R missions for the Air Force and commercial missions for Iridium, Globalstar and three DigitalGlobe satellites. Delta II’s final mission came in 2018.

The new public exhibit at Kennedy Space Center will preserve the lasting legacy of the rocket that fostered the GPS and enabled the exploration of Mars.

“While IceSat-2 marked its final mission in 2018, Delta II’s legacy will live on in the technology and exploration it delivered for nearly 30 years, including GPS and the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers,” stated Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO. “We are excited to honor the legacy of the Delta II and pay tribute to the people who designed, built and launched it for nearly three decades.”

ULA selected the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to receive the final Delta II vehicle for this outdoor exhibit to inspire current and future generations to learn about the rocket’s rich history.

Positioned among rockets and space vehicles from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, the Delta II will help visitors learn about its contribution to life on Earth, science and exploration. Other rockets featured in the Rocket Garden include the ULA-heritage Delta-Thor, Juno I and Juno II, Mercury-Redstone, Mercury-Atlas and Atlas-Agena, Gemini-Titan II, and the Saturn 1B launch vehicles.

“The Rocket Garden is our most photographed attraction here at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer at the visitor complex, “and when you visit you know why. The rockets here represent so much more than just engineering feats of technology. They are a permanent tribute to the scientists and engineers who turned dreams of spaceflight into reality. The Rocket Garden is a testament to the innovation of our space program, and the addition of ULA’s Delta II represents our recent accomplishments in space exploration. It’s something you cannot see anywhere else.”

ULA currently builds Delta IV and Atlas V rockets in Decatur. The next-generation Vulcan Centaur, also built in Decatur, could see its first mission come to fruition as early as the fourth quarter of 2021.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn