Shuttle Artifacts on Trek to Inspire
Six large space shuttle artifacts are making the first leg of their nearly 150-mile journey from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum at Keystone Heights Airport where they are set to inspire a new generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, aviators and mathematicians (STEAMs).
"We add the 'A' in STEM for 'aviation' because someone had to fly these vehicles," said Bob Oehl, executive director for the museum in North Central Florida. "We really want kids to look at these artifacts and say 'Wow.' That's what we want, we want the 'Wow.' "
The last intact, bright-orange, external fuel tank (ET) flight test article; a yellow ET transporter; blue crew hatch access vehicle; iconic crew transport vehicle; solid rocket booster (SRB) aft skirt; and SRB frustum soon will be put on public display at the former World War II Army Air Corps air base.
"These will be part of the collection of NASA artifacts that we already have to highlight the Space Shuttle Program, Apollo, Gemini and Mercury programs," Oehl said.
This particular tank weighs about 75,000 pounds unfueled 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 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to propel the spacecraft to orbit. They also absorbed the thrust loads produced at launch by the orbiter and the SRBs.
"The main tank is the largest artifact, obviously, but also one of the most important 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 said the tank will be on display outdoors, initially, then put under cover. The museum is working on plans to build facilities on about 6.5 acres owned by Keystone Heights Airport that can house the remaining artifacts. With all of the new pieces of history they've obtained to tell a comprehensive story about America's space program, Oehl said the organization is considering a name change to Wings of Dreams Aviation and Space Museum.
"These artifacts are really going to be the highlight of our program, including the Guidance and Navigation Shuttle Simulator we brought back from Houston," said Susan King, the museum's managing director. "As soon as we get done with this move we're going back to Houston to get the only full-scale mock-up of the Hubble Space Telescope."
The crew hatch access vehicle and the crew transport vehicle are almost as recognizable as the fuel tank. However, instead of taking center stage during launches, they were instrumental in landing operations.
Just as a shuttle launch and landing were choreographed perfectly, moving space components of this size has taken a lot of planning and patience.
"There are about 5,000 artifacts that have been allocated to various museums and universities across the country," said Christopher Spears, an alternate property disposal officer for Kennedy's Center Operations Directorate.
This move was no small task for Kennedy and museum support personnel. The ET, for example, was picked up from Kennedy's Ransom Road on April 23. There, a donated crane and crew from Sims spent about 10 hours lifting the giant tank onto its transporter for the move down State Road 3 to the Turn Basin. All Florida Electric also assisted in the move through Kennedy. The artifacts left April 24, hauled by a Morbro Marine barge up the inland waterways to the Port of Green Cove Springs in North Florida. There, they'll be staged for a few months until they're towed to their final destination.
"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," Oehl said. "All of these services, the cranes, the tug boats, barges, the utility crews are all donated. These are all people who are in our Wings of Dreams family and believe in preserving this history."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center