Ares I-X Segments Travel the Nation's Mighty Rivers
Ares I-X Segments shipped out of Wellsville, OhioAres I-X test rocket segments arrive via truck in Wellsville, Ohio. Credit: NASA/Mark L. Grills, WYLE Mark Twain had a great imagination, but he never pictured the kind of cargo ready to journey down his beloved Mississippi River. Deep in the cargo bay of a massive ship sit 12 rocket parts whose launch will bring NASA one step closer to its exploration goals to return to the moon for exploration of the lunar surface and then to travel to Mars and destinations beyond.

Engineers and technicians at NASA's Glenn Research Center, in Cleveland, spent the last two years designing and building the upper stage simulator of the Ares I-X test rocket. Bound for NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the parts will take a 12-day journey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico, arriving at Port Canaveral in Florida where they will be assembled and sent on a test launch in 2009.

For two years, NASA Glenn project managers examined many transportation options because of the sheer size of the parts.

"This is the first time we have ever shipped cargo of this magnitude. These major rivers provide ports deep enough to accommodate a ship and safe routes to reach Kennedy," said Jeanine Hanzel, logistics manager.

During a two-day period, 12 tractor-trailer rigs arrived at Glenn in Cleveland to load the 11 steel cylinders that are 18 feet wide and just under 10 feet tall, each weighing between 24,000 and 60,000 pounds.

After all parts were secured, the wide-load caravan traveled to Wellsville, a shipping port on the eastern Ohio River.

A massive crane carefully loaded the segments on the Delta Mariner, a ship the length of a football field that is designed to navigate both river and ocean routes. In an effort to monitor any stress during transportation, each segment was fitted with data loggers to measure temperature, humidity and pressure.

Ares I-X Segments shipped out of Wellsville, OhioA crane moves the first segment onto the Delta Mariner. Credit: NASA/Mark L. Grills WYLE
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"The data will be collected when it arrives in Florida to determine if adverse conditions were encountered that would affect the segments during the trip," said Jack Lekan, ground systems lead.

While the massive steel parts look like hollow cans, the fabrication of each segment was anything but simple. The manufacturing required a water jet, three times faster than the speed of sound, to cut the carbonized steel. Then each segment had to be rolled precisely into a perfect shape. Welding was meticulously executed, with each weld undergoing ultrasonic and radiographic testing.

"We had to prove the welds could bear the weight under launch," said Therese Griebel, chief of manufacturing at Glenn.

The parts will be assembled in Florida as a simulator for the upper stage of the Ares rocket and tested during a launch scheduled for 2009.

NASA's Constellation Program is building America's next generation of spacecraft to return to the moon, establish an outpost there and eventually move beyond to Mars and other destinations in the solar system. Constellation includes the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the Ares I and Ares V rockets and the Altair lunar lander. The first flight of the Orion capsule to the International Space Station is scheduled for no later than 2015, with the first lunar mission occurring by 2020.

Nancy Smith Kilkenny (SGT, Inc.)