Final Journey: Last Space Shuttle External Tank arrives in California
MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — Under low clouds and fog, the last Space Shuttle External Tank (ET-94) moved past the breakwater and into Marina Del Rey, east of downtown Los Angeles. After moving slowly through the harbor, the barge was tied to the dock at around 8 a.m. PDT on May 18. It has been a long and eventful journey from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF).
ET-94 departed from the MAF on April 12 to arrive at its destination the tank had to travel some 5,000 miles (8,047 km) from New Orleans through the Panama Canal and up the coast to its new home in Los Angeles at the California Science Center.
“This is one of those rare things, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to be able to transport something so historic and so rare as the last External Tank of the Space [Shuttle] Program left in existence,” said Terry Emmert, the president of Emmert International, the company tapped to transport the tank from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana to Marina del Rey.
To add to the historic journey the crew actually rescued four fishermen whose boat sank off the coast of Mexico during the leg from the Panama Canal to San Diego.
“It’s great to be a part of history and to be a part of such an unusual voyage. We had some rough seas out there, twenty-foot high swells and we took a lot of water above the top of the barge,” Emmert said. “After going through the Panama Canal, off the Coast of Mexico, we were part of a rescue operation – it was incredible. In the whole history of our company, that was the first rescue that we ever had. We ended up rescuing four people out of the middle of the ocean, three Americans and one Mexican national. You simply could not have written a better story for the final trip of the ET.”
When asked what he thought was going through the minds of the stranded fishermen, Emmert summed up what he thought their likely response was. “I imagine they were saying, ‘What the heck is that?’ (laughs)”
Once it arrives at the California Science Center, ET-94 will eventually be mated with Space Shuttle Endeavour and two solid rocket boosters (According to Space.com they will be real casings but inert, with no fuel loaded). The orbiter will then be raised into the vertical position – as if poised ready for flight. If everything goes according to plan, the exhibit should stand an impressive 15 stories in height.
The External Tank was rolled onto shore around 10:32 a.m. PDT, when the time best suited its offloading into a storage pavilion until its final move to the California Science Center which starts at 12:01 a.m on May 20. The move follows a Friday evening gala on the pier and is expected to last approximately 16 to 18 hours, arriving on the afternoon of May 21. The route will travel through several cities and cover a distance of some 16.5 miles.
The current exhibit has been a big success for the Center, with more than 8.5 million visitors seeing the orbiter since its arrival in 2012. The new additions are expected to be an even bigger draw as it will be the only flight certified shuttle stack in the world. Jeff Rudolph head of the California Science Center stated that he hopes that the completed Endeavour exhibit will inspire the next generation to learn about science.
As was noted in a report appearing in the L.A. Times, ET-94 was one of 136 External Tanks produced during the Space Shuttle Program’s 30-year history. It survived the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and resided at the MAF until this recent move.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to transport the ET to the California Science Center where it can be reunited with a shuttle,” Emmert told SpaceFlight Insider.
Matthew Kuhns is an aerospace engineer living in California and enjoys capturing the beauty of the aerospace world with his camera. As an engineer he specializes in fuel & propulsion systems and as a photographer his internationally award-winning images are published in magazines and books. Kuhns was introduced to the founder of SpaceFlight Insider during the pre launch activities for SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission and was promptly brought on to the team as SFI’s California photographer.