Failure to launch: Full scale Shuttle External Tank stuck at Green Cove
GREEN COVE SPRING, Fla — A full-scale “model” of one of the Space Shuttles’ orange External Tanks which once resided at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is in a similar position to Tom Hanks’ character in the 2004 movie The Terminal. The component, which once wowed tourists, now sits rusting as it awaits the last leg of its journey to its new home and it is unclear when it will be leaving.
The tank – also known as STA – was the third and final test tank for the Space Shuttle Program and was used for structures/stress testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama between 1977 and 1980. After it had completed this task, the tank was placed on display at MSFC and then later at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. It was then moved to the KSC Visitor Complex in 1997 where it was visible to the public until April 2013.
Similar in size to the External Tanks used on the Space Shuttle, the tank measures in at 154 foot long (47 meters). This is part of the reason that the tank has had its final journey to the Wings of Dreams museum delayed.
Officials still don’t know when the tank can start its 56 mile (90 km) trip to the museum. Moving the tank is a “logistical nightmare” due to road conditions and low-hanging electrical and telephone cables and wires that run across the streets.
“We’ll have to close two state highways to travel from the Port of Green Cove Springs to our museum. Clay Electric Company has three divisions working on the logistics of taking down 34 pages of power lines,” said the Wings of Dreams Museum’s Bob A. Oehl.
This particular tank weighs in at about 75,000 pounds (34,019 kg) and stands more than 15-stories tall. Each tank was referred to as the “backbone” of the shuttle stack. Their job was to hold about 535,000 U.S. gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to help propel the Space Shuttle to orbit. They also absorbed the thrust loads produced at launch by the orbiter and the solid rocket boosters mounted on either side of the ET.
“The main tank is the largest artifact, obviously, and also one of the most important for our museum because this is the big carrot, no pun intended, that will draw people to our museum for our mission to educate people about what happened back then, who did it and why,” Oehl said.
Oehl also said the tank will initially be on display outside of the museum, but later will be put under cover.
After 30 years of flight, the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011 with the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (which now resides at a $100 million exhibit at the KSC Visitor Complex). The Wings of Dreams Museum is located at Keystone Heights Airport, southeast of Starke, Florida.
A native of the Netherlands, van Oene became ‘infected’ with the ‘space virus’ by an enthusiastic school teacher in 1981. Since 1994 he has been a freelance space photographer and writer for magazines and websites in Holland, Belgium and ‘Spaceflight’, the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society.
van Oene is also the co-founder and CFO of SPACEPATCHES.NL. This Netherlands-based foundation currently produces all the official Soyuz crew patches for the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.