The external tank, also known as ET-94, that was used to launch space shuttle Endeavour into orbit is one crucial step away from being permanently displayed with the orbiter at the California Science Center. On January 11th, ET-94 successfully completed a complex journey through the streets of Los Angeles to the Science Center. The tank will now be prepared for vertical mating with Endeavour in the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.
Journey of External Tank ET-94
ET-94 is the last existing flight-qualified space shuttle external tank in existence. It was manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans in 2001 as a replacement for flight tanks lost in accidents. Although ET-94 never actually launched to space, it is considered extremely historically significant as part of the space shuttle program.
ET-94 makes its way towards the California Science Center. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times
In 2016, ET-94 was acquired by the California Science Center Foundation from the NASA inventory housed at the Kennedy Space Center. The tank was then transported overland on a four-week, nearly 4,000 km journey from Florida to Los Angeles atop the NASA Pegasus barge. This was the only remaining flight tank from the shuttle program not already on display or destroyed.
Arrival of Tank at California Science Center
On May 21, 2016, the Pegasus barge arrived in Marina del Rey carrying the 15-story, 35,000 kg ET-94. It was offloaded and transported through the streets of L.A. to the California Science Center near downtown. Since then, it has been stored horizontally in a secure outdoor parking lot waiting the day it could be displayed.
The California Science Center plans an innovative vertical display where ET-94 will be mated with the Space Shuttle Endeavour as if the two structures were an actual launch stack. Endeavour is currently on exhibit with solid rocket boosters and main engines so visitors can envision it ready for launch. Hoisting the tank vertically will complete the scene.
Final Journey to Display Location
On January 11th, 2024 ET-94 took its final 1.6 km road trip from the parking lot onto the grounds of the Science Center. The move required taking down traffic lights, trees and power lines as the tank was too massive to clear them while hauled on a remote-controlled transporter at less than 1 mph.
Hundreds of L.A. residents gathered to witness the spectacle of the orange behemoth rolling through the streets. The sight invoked nostalgia for the shuttle program that was retired in 2011 after 135 missions into space over 30 years.
The relocation proceeded smoothly and ET-94 arrived at the temporary enclosure near Endeavour around midnight. In the next few months engineers will position the tank vertically using one of the world’s largest cranes and secure it to the existing display stand.
Significance of New Exhibit Display
When the ET-94 exhibit opens later this year, it will be the only display in the world where visitors can view a space shuttle orbiter mated to components from its original launch configuration. Endeavour was the flight orbiter for ET-94’s sister tank, ET-88. Though they never launched together, displaying them as a stack pays tribute to the shuttle fleet and the exploits they enabled.
Advocates see the display as symbolic of the U.S. space program’s achievements but also optimism for the future as NASA plans missions to the Moon and Mars. Students will be inspired by seeing firsthand these technical marvels created by scientists and engineers through skill and determination.
The new display at the California Science Center will cement its stature as the West Coast’s premier museum of science and space. It is sure to draw enthusiastic crowds when the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center opens. Visitors from around the world will flock to Los Angeles to witness the impressiveartifacts from America’s manned space program history.
The ET-94 exhibit has also generated excitement for the museum’s upcoming project to display a flown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster. As the company helps return astronauts to space from U.S. soil, their achievements will soon join those of NASA’s shuttle-era feats highlighted at the Center.
Both installations remind the world that California continues to be integral to pushing new frontiers in spacetechnology and inspiring future generations to advance human space exploration.
Space Shuttle Tank Specifications
|760,000 liters liquid oxygen and 143,000 liters liquid hydrogen
|Aluminum alloy skin, stringer and frame construction
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