The lone remaining external fuel tank from NASA's space shuttle program arrived early Wednesday in Marina del Rey for the final leg of its journey to the California Science Center.
The rust-colored tank, aka ET-94, was transported on a barge during a month-long sea voyage from a NASA assembly plant in New Orleans. The 15-story, 32 1/2-ton tank was never used and will become part of the Science Center's display that features the retired Endeavour space shuttle — which made its own celebrated trip on Los Angeles' streets to Exposition Park after a spectacular Southern California flyover on the back of a jumbo jet.
ET-94 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 sea voyage that took it through the Panama Canal.
The transport crew made headlines during the trip when crew members helped rescue four people who abandoned a sinking sportfishing boat off Baja, California.
A tugboat pulled ET-94 out of San Diego waters Tuesday morning, and the barge floated out of the fog and toward the dock around 6 a.m. Wednesday in Marina Del Rey.
"I think this is awesome, couldn't wait to get down here this morning," said resident Dean Reutter.
The tank will remain at the marina until about midnight Saturday, when it is scheduled to begin a slow, 12-mile journey to the Science Center that will likely continue into Saturday night.
The caravan will travel — at about 5 mph — 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. It will be joined to Endeavour and, eventually, two booster rockets at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.
"This will be the only place in the world where a whole space shuttle stack with real hardware will be available," said Science Center President Jeffrey N. Rudolph.
The shuttle stack will be available for viewing next week.
The external tanks, which provided the shuttles with the propellants needed to enter space, were designed to detach from the shuttles and disintegrate as they plummeted back to Earth. ET-94 is actually made up of three tanks: one for oxygen, another for hydrogen and a third collar-like intertank that connects the two others.
The external tank also provided structural support for the shuttles and booster rockets when they were upright on the launch pad.
The ET's skin was coated with polyisocyanurate foam, which protected the tank from heat and helped maintain the proper temperature for the propellants it contained. Its job was done about 8 1/2 minutes after launch when it was jettisoned from the shuttle.
Most of the tank disintegrated in the atmosphere; the rest splashed into the ocean.
NASA used three types of external tanks for the space shuttle program: standard weight, more advanced lightweight tanks and super lightweight tanks. ET-94 is considered a lightweight tank, commonly used throughout the 1990s.
ET-94 was delivered to NASA in January 2001 and, although it was never used in flight, investigators looking into the 2003 Columbia disaster examined the tank in search of possible problems that might have led to the re-entry break-up that killed seven crew members. The team dissected foam coating from parts of the tank, which explains why there are pieces of foam missing from ET-94.
The tank will be restored before it joins Endeavour on display.