NASA Goes Green and Platinum

In keeping with President Obama’s “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance” executive order, we’ve seen a decisive push for greener federal buildings over the past year. It even appears that different agencies are actually vying with each other for the most sustainable buildings—NASA seems absolutely thrilled that the new Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility, at the Kennedy Space Center, will be its greenest facility ever.

The building will be “a future hub for spacecraft fueling support and a storage facility for cryogenic fuel transfer equipment,” so I was expecting suitably fancy, futuristic technology. Instead, the design and construction team is gunning for a LEED Platinum rating with some good old-fashioned methods—recycling and Dumpster diving.

As the building is being constructed, between 90 and 95 percent of the waste generated is either being repurposed on site or sent to local recyclers for processing. But employees from other NASA departments are also rummaging through the Dumpsters and coming up with crazy ideas for re-using what they find. For instance, one employee has decided to put construction waste at the service of the Kennedy Space Center’s protected wildlife—the silt fences, which would normally go into a landfill, will instead be used to guard the burrows of gopher tortoises.

This quaintly sentimental approach to sustainability is carried into the design of the facility itself. LEED guidelines stipulate that materials be sourced from within 500 miles, but some of the materials in the NASA facility will be much more local than that. The architects, Steven Szabo and James Edmunds and Associates, will actually be incorporating the old glazing and framing from the iconic firing rooms of Kennedy’s Launch Control Center. Every rocket launch at the Space Center was viewed through those windows, so that old glass will be treated with the respect it deserves—it will be placed in the same orientation as it was in the Launch Center, overlooking the launch pads.

There will, of course, be other, more forward-looking technologies, such as special lighting fixtures and photovoltaic panels. Rainwater will be stored in underground tanks and used for irrigation and bathroom facilities. Apart from the re-used glass, the other glazing in the building will actually help conserve energy. The aim is to maintain an energy credit of zero—making the facility up to 52 percent more efficient than a regular commercial building.

NASA, the architects, and the contractors, HW Davis Construction, deserve to be commended for their total commitment to building a green facility. But what I really love is that even after the gopher tortoises and the historic windows, they couldn’t resist one last, endearingly cheesy touch—the roof of the building will actually be painted green.

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