While ET-94 never made its amazing journey to space, the huge space shuttle fuel tank is getting a second life. On Thursday, it was announced that the piece of machinery would travel along the Panama Canal and soon make its way through the streets of Los Angeles until it arrives at its new home.
That new home will be the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The tank, which weighs 32.5 tons, will join Endeavor, a space shuttle. One of the most surprising aspects may be the size of the fuel tank, which is longer than the shuttle. The ET-94 measures 27.6 feet in diameter as well as 154 feet in length.
The journey could take up to eight weeks this April via barge from a New Orleans NASA facility. After passing through the Panama Canal, the fuel tank will debark at Marina del Rey in Southern California. The following journey may be the most difficult part, in spite of the fact that it encompasses just 12 miles. The tank will be hitting the freeway and city streets, eventually arriving in downtown Los Angeles.
The road portion of the epic journey alone is likely to take up to 18 hours. The museum expects that the tank will arrive on May 21st, and not without huge fanfare. Preparation for the big day is already underway. Plans to trim back trees, raise telephone lines, and temporarily remove light poles will make for a smooth ride. It may have cost $10 million to move the Endeavor, but it will cost less than one-third of that to move the tank.
Tanks like the ET-94 were designed to be expendable; however, this one was never used. Only three tanks survive. This one was originally designed to fuel engines by holding oxygen and hydrogen before being dropped to burn or fall into the ocean.
This tank did not fly, but researchers did use it to learn more about the Columbia disaster. It was able to help researchers determine why the shuttle broke as it entered Earth’s atmosphere in 2003, which led to the deaths of seven crew members on board. Foam insulation had broken off, damaging one of the wings of the shuttle. This allowed the combination of wind and heat to take out the wing entirely.
By looking at the insulating foam of the ET-94, researchers were able to learn much about the piece that could influence the future of spacecraft.