September 29, 2010
Space shuttle historian Dennis Jenkins took a poignant ride alongside the vehicle’s last external tank on Monday as it completed its long journey to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. A NASA contract engineer with 30 years in the shuttle program, Jenkins also is the author of Space Shuttle, The History of Developing the National Space Transportation System, which he’s currently updating to include the final missions. Jenkins shared his thoughts about the ride (and photos) in an email:
“Well, that was fun. I got the chance to ride the Pegasus barge that was delivering the last ET [external tank], ET-122, although it will be used on STS-134, the next-to-last flight, probably.
We got a tug at the Navy Port in Port Canaveral and met the solid rocket booster retrieval ship Freedom Star and Pegasus at the mouth of the channel.
As the tug took up its position on the stern, pushing the barge, the five of us who were joining for the ride upriver jumped over to Pegasus. Freedom Star had towed Pegasus from Gulfport, Mississippi, near New Orleans (actually, Michoud) where the ETs are manufactured. Soon Freedom left and a bow tug took her place. We got on the tug at 06:00 and docked in the Turn Basin next to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) about 13:30 after cruising through the Port Canaveral locks and up the Banana River.
Pegasus is an unpowered barge, but is nicely equipped: a small galley, some bunks, a head (all air conditioned). It was a great little cruise.
ET-122 is called the “Katrina Tank” because it was at Michoud when Hurricane Katrina hit, damaging some of the foam on the ET. It has been repaired, recertified, and is ready for flight. ET-138 was originally manifested for STS-134 and ET-122 was the Launch On Need tank [a rescue mission in case STS-134 becomes stranded in orbit]. After thinking about it for a while, Engineering decided that it made more sense to reserve the ‘best’ tank for the LON vehicle since there is no rescue vehicle available if something happens going uphill. Since ET-138 is the ‘best’ tank we have (many fewer repairs than ET-122, all of which are well inspected but still pose some very slight risk, as well as improvements made in production over the last 16 tanks) the program decided to reserve ET-138 for the LON flight, which hopefully will become STS-135, and use the Katrina Tank for STS-134.
ET-122 is the first, and likely only, ET that has ‘nose art’ even if it is not on the nose. The nose art is on the intertank access door. The folks (unknown) at Michoud painted it. We’re pretty sure that is the flight door [the one that will go to space], since it is composite; there is a metal ‘ground door’ we use at KSC while we work on the tank. So we are pretty certain the art will fly on STS-134. Since the gaseous hydrogen umbilical is right beside it (above it in the orientation in the photo), it should get a fair amount of exposure, since that umbilical is a favorite to show on television.”
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