When space shuttle Endeavour arrived in Los Angeles in 2012, it drew 1.5 million spectators, media attention and lots of amazing photos. But it was incomplete.
Even having the iconic orbiter on display isn't enough for Jeffery Rudolph, president of the California Science Center, the space shuttle's home. "Our dream for years has been to display the full space shuttle stack," Rudolph said.
That dream is now one tank-sized step closer to reality. Rudolph is making the final preparations to receive Endeavour's space shuttle tank — the huge orange tank that helps space shuttles take off — at the science center.
The external tank, which carried Space Shuttle Endeavour's 535,000 gallons of propellants, is a whole lot bigger than the orbiter that arrived in 2012. It's more than 15 stories high, taller than the Statue of Liberty (not including the base) and weighs 75,000 pounds when empty. The external tanks were designed to burn up after take-off. The one the Science Center is getting, ET-94, was never used, and NASA donated it to the center.
Rudolph says ET-94 won't be as hard to drive through the streets of Los Angeles than the orbiter Endeavour. "It's a lot easier for us to move through the city, because it doesn't have wings on it," he explained.
The tank is currently sitting on a barge on its way to the Panama Canal. Then it's off to San Diego for US Customs and eventually to Marina Del Rey. It'll be driven to the California Science Center on May 21. "That'll be a most of the day move," Rudolph said. "We're going to start around midnight and it will be until about 6 o'clock on Saturday."
When ET-94 arrives at the California Science Center, it will bring a unique piece of history with it: It's the last remaining flight-qualified tank: "It was the sister tank to ET-93, manufactured at the same time, [which] was on the Columbia. Columbia burned up on reentry because it had been damaged by foam that broke off ET-93, so after the Columbia accident, the investigation board that was reviewing that cut out large pieces of the foam [from ET-94]," Rudolph said.
Not too far into the distant future, Rudolph and the team at the California Science Center plan to join Endeavor and the tank with its two booster rockets, now in Utah. When it all gets here, the space center will put the pieces together in a building adjacent to the center and point it skywards. They don't have all the giant space craft movers that NASA has, so they're borrowing a trick from the Russians.
"It is actually incredibly complex engineering. We actually went to the techniques the Russians used. The Russians built their own shuttle, they never launched it, but they actually assembled it horizontally and titled it up, and that's what we're gonna do," Rudolph said. "It's gonna be an amazing thing, another thing to look forward to in a couple of years."