The lone remaining external fuel tank from NASA's space shuttle program began a slow ride across Los Angeles early Saturday and arrived 18 hours later at the California Science Center, where it will be on display with space shuttle Endeavour.
The caravan traveled 15 miles from a dock in Marina del Rey down Lincoln and Culver boulevards, to Westchester Parkway, then through Inglewood on Arbor Vitae Street to La Brea Avenue, past the Forum, and north on Vermont Avenue to the museum. Limited to a top speed of 5 mph, the tank arrived just before the 7:30 p.m. PT promised time on Saturday. It was to join the Endeavour at museum's Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.
"This will be the only place in the world where a whole space shuttle stack with real hardware will be available," said Science Center President Jeffrey N. Rudolph.
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The shuttle stack will be available for viewing next week. Eventually, booster rockets will be added to the exhibit.
Endeavour made its own celebrated trip on Los Angeles' streets to Exposition Park after a spectacular Southern California flyover on the back of a jumbo jet. The 15-story, 32 1/2-ton tank, never used in flight, is about half as along as a football field. That's longer than the shuttle, but not as wide, heavy or tall, when the tank is placed on its side.
Trees will be trimmed and utility lines will be temporarily taken down for the move. Los Angeles police suggested drivers avoid several areas along the route due to temporary street closures.
The rust-color tank, aka ET-94, began its monthlong journey to Los Angeles on April 10 when it was pulled out of NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. Two days later, it was tugged into the Gulf of Mexico to begin a sea voyage that took it through the Panama Canal.
The transport crew made headlines during the trip when crew members helped rescue four people who abandoned a sinking sportfishing boat off Baja, California.
The external tanks, which provided the shuttles with the propellants needed to enter space, were designed to detach from the shuttles and disintegrate as they plummeted back to Earth. ET-94 is actually made up of three tanks: one for oxygen, another for hydrogen and a third collar-like intertank that connects the two others.
The external tank also provided structural support for the shuttles and booster rockets when they were upright on the launchpad.
The ET's skin was coated with polyisocyanurate foam, which protected the tank from heat and helped maintain the proper temperature for the propellants it contained. Its job was done about 8 1/2 minutes after launch when it was jettisoned from the shuttle.
Most of the tank disintegrated in the atmosphere; the rest splashed into the ocean.
NASA used three types of external tanks for the space shuttle program: standard weight, more advanced lightweight tanks and super lightweight tanks. ET-94 is considered a lightweight tank, commonly used throughout the 1990s.
ET-94 was delivered to NASA in January 2001 and, although it was never used in flight, investigators looking into the 2003 Columbia disaster examined the tank in search of possible problems that might have led to the re-entry breakup that killed seven crew members. The team dissected foam coating from parts of the tank, which explains why there are pieces of foam missing from ET-94.
The tank will be restored before it joins Endeavour on display.