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Space shuttle fuel tank makes way to science center

LOS ANGELES — A 66,000-pound space shuttle fuel tank finished its slow ride over Los Angeles streets May 21 with a landing at the California Science Center in Exposition Park.

The tank — named ET-94 — which left its temporary home in Marina del Rey between 3 and 3:30 a.m. that morning, arrived about 7 p.m. at its permanent destination near the space shuttle Endeavour at the science center, following an almost 16-hour journey.

The never-used tank snailed along the 16.5-mile trek at no more than 5 mph, stopping occasionally for crews to move power lines or temporarily remove traffic lights to accommodate the oversized load.

Well-wishers who walked behind and alongside the fuel tank included Paula Madison, a member of the California Science Center Foundation Board of Trustees, astronaut Drew Feustel — who flew on space shuttle Endeavour’s last mission in 2011 — and Lynda Oschin, chair of the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation, according to news reports.

Astronaut Rick Searfoss, who flew three missions on the shuttle, commanding one flight and serving as pilot on two others, said seeing the fuel tank brought back “great memories” for him.

“What comes to my mind are all the great people I worked with down at the Cape [Canaveral] and the Johnson Space Center,” Searfoss told ABC7. “To see the hardware really reminds me of the people and what was a fantastic program that the Science Center has the vision to preserve for posterity.”

Preparations for the fuel tank’s journey snarled traffic throughout the Marina Del Rey area because of street closures connected to the operation.

Northbound Lincoln Boulevard was closed and all vehicles were directed by traffic officers onto eastbound Culver Boulevard. The end of the westbound Marina (90) Freeway was backed up for about a mile. Other streets in the Marina area also were jammed.

Most intersections on northbound Lincoln Boulevard leaving Los Angeles International Airport had flashing red lights as officers directed traffic. Helicopters hovered overhead.

The caravan traveled down Lincoln and Culver boulevards to Westchester Parkway, then through Inglewood on Arbor Vitae Street to La Brea Avenue, past the Forum, and north on Vermont Avenue to the museum.

The shuttle Endeavour made a similar trip through the city in October 2012, attracting thousands of spectators lining streets from LAX to Exposition Park.

The tank, the only major, non-reusable part of the space shuttle, is neither as wide as Endeavour, nor as high, although it is longer. Because of its size, fewer utilities were affected and no trees were removed along the route to Exposition Park, as was the case when Endeavour was hauled to its new home in 2012.

The path ET-94 took through the streets was planned with input from city officials, utilities and community groups.

The massive orange tank began its journey to Los Angeles on April 10, when it was pulled out of NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana.

Two days later, it was tugged into the Gulf of Mexico to begin a voyage that took it through the Panama Canal.

The sea journey made some headlines earlier this month, when the crew of the tugboat pulling ET-94 helped rescue four people who had to abandon a sinking sport-fishing boat off the coast of Baja California.

ET-94 is NASA’s last remaining shuttle external tank. Unlike the solid rocket boosters and the shuttles themselves, the orange external fuel tanks were used only once because they broke apart before they came down in the ocean.

 

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