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NASA To Replace Iconic Countdown Clock After Maintenance Skyrockets

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Here is a riddle - what's about 26-feet-wide, and 7 feet tall?

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's in Florida overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

BLOCK: Its display flashes numbers that heighten already great anticipation.

CORNISH: All right, here's a little audio hint that may help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ignition sequence start. Six - five - four - three - two - one.

BLOCK: Got it? We're talking about a vintage timepiece, the Kennedy Space Center countdown-clock.

CORNISH: It's been ticking down launches for 45 years, since the second moon landing mission. It's done a great job all those years, but well, it's time to move on.

GEORGE DILLER: There's a lot of mixed emotions about watching that clock go because it has a lot of history to its.

BLOCK: That's NASA public affairs officer George Diller. Now, you might have expected the space agency to have had a high-tech device to mark the seconds to blast off. But Diller says there's nothing fancy about that old clock.

DILLER: It really was very simple. It was just incandescent bulbs and they were all done to create a numerical display.

CORNISH: By the way, those are 40 watt bulbs. The new clock will be a little more 21 century.

DILLER: We'll be going to a much more sophisticated display that's going to be an LED display that will be almost high definition in character.

BLOCK: Diller says NASA's spending $280,000 for the new display. It should be up and running when an unmanned Orion spacecraft is scheduled to lift off in early December.

CORNISH: NASA says it will save the historic countdown-clock for a possible display at its visitor center. Diller says it just didn't make sense to keep fixing it. It was hard to even find parts for it anymore.

DILLER: And the maintenance on it has just skyrocketed.

BLOCK: And you know NASA knows a thing or two about skyrockets. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.