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Space Shuttle Tank Gets Treatment for Big Trip

Before a Space Shuttle fuel tank could begin its sea voyage from New Orleans to Los Angeles and the California Science Center, the team at LAProPoint had a bit of work to do. The Sun Valley company, which specializes in creating and installing rigging, scenery and lighting systems for stage shows, museums, theme parks and musical venues, prepared the fuel tank for transport via barge by weatherproofing and painting the exterior and removing water from the inside. Jim Hartman, vice president and managing partner, said the work was not dissimilar from the scenery work the company has done for theme park clients that requires paint and color choices. “We do this type of work but certainly not on something of this size and not something with the history (the tank) has,” Hartman said. The tank will be put on display in an area north of the pavilion containing the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which arrived at the science center in 2012. A permanent display facility for the shuttle and tank, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, is under construction and will be completed in 2019. A group of LAProPoint employees, including Justin Levin, a lead designer, went to New Orleans in March to prepare the fuel tank for its journey to Los Angeles. In early April, the tank was loaded onto a barge pulled by a tugboat traveling at 7 miles an hour through the Caribbean Sea to the Panama Canal, up the coast of Central America and Mexico, and stopped in San Diego to clear customs. The tank is expected to arrive at Marina del Rey on May 18 and be brought to the science center three days later. Nathan Miranda, the science center’s project manager for transporting the fuel tank, said it will be exciting for residents to watch the fuel tank move on city streets. “It’s on a Saturday, so folks would be able to come out with their families and cheer us on as we are dragging this across the city,” Miranda said. The tank is about as tall as a 15-story building and weighs 66,000 pounds and is the last one that NASA has. The Space Shuttle fuel tanks were the only non-reusable part of the program. The tank was jettisoned from the spacecraft after takeoff and burned up in re-entry. LAProPoint is no stranger to doing work at the science center. Based on the established relationship with the company, it was selected to work on the fuel tank. LAProPoint, for instance, did the specialty rigging work for installing a replica payload into the bay of Endeavour. It also installed multiple aircraft and spacecraft at the science center, including Apollo and Mercury space capsules and an F-18 Hornet jet fighter. “It is a big deal and it’s a high profile project and we are already getting a lot of press on it,” Hartman said. “Justin had his mug on the cover of the California section (of the Los Angeles Times) a couple weeks ago.” To prepare the fuel tank for transport, Levin and several other LAProPoint staffers had to waterproof the exterior, particularly areas with exposed aluminum where foam had been removed. Those exposed areas were then painted over and weatherproofed, Levin said. “We cleaned up the inside a bit because it had been sitting for such a long time and had been through some storms and so it was full of water,” he added. A subsequent trip to New Orleans had the company work with Emmert International, the Clackamas, Ore. firm handling the logistics of the move, to load the tank on the barge. LAProPoint also handled the shipping of external parts that will be reattached to the tank once it’s at the science center. At the center itself, LAProPoint coordinated the pouring of 10-foot by 10-foot concrete footings that the tank will be attached to for the next couple of years while additional refurbishment takes place. “We have an area that we have carved out so the public can come out and look at this magnificent piece,” Miranda said. While the tank is longer than Endeavour, maneuvering it through the streets will be easier because it does not have wings. Unlike with the shuttle, there will be no need to uproot trees, Hartman said. The science center’s annual Discovery Ball fundraiser takes place on the evening of May 20 in Marina del Rey and will end at midnight with a send-off of the fuel tank for the science center. Hartman and Mark Riddlesperger, founder and president of LAProPoint, will be in attendance at the ball and send-off.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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