Final External Tank Rolled Out Of The Assembly Building In New
NASA and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company paid tribute to
the workforce who built the external tanks for the space shuttle
fleet on Thursday at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New
Orleans. ET-138, the last newly manufactured tank to roll out of
the assembly building, served as a backdrop for speakers praising
ET-138 External Fuel Tank
"This is a bittersweet moment for everyone who's been part of
this great and dedicated NASA and Lockheed Martin external tank
production team," said John Honeycutt, manager of the External Tank
Project Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala. "ET-138 is the last in a series of tanks that has
provided increasingly safer launches of space shuttles."
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Denver was awarded a
contract in 1973 to build the external tanks. Through almost 30
years of shuttle flights, Lockheed Martin workers at Michoud have
built and delivered 134 flight tanks to the Space Shuttle
"Today is an emotional one for us," said Mark Bryant, vice
president, Lockheed Martin External Tank Project at Michoud. "We
have worked hard to build safe tanks for NASA, and I think this
last one can be the safest yet. Yes, we've persevered through the
challenges of Return to Flight and Katrina. Those events made us
stronger, and as a result, we've developed better, more efficient
ways to build even safer tanks."
Following the ceremony, a traditional New Orleans brass band and
hundreds of handkerchief-waving employees escorted ET-138 on its
rollout to Michoud Harbor.
The tank was scheduled to depart after the ceremony aboard the
Pegasus barge on a six-day, 900-mile sea journey to NASA's Kennedy
Space Center in Florida. Two tugs will tow Pegasus to the Port of
Gulfport where Freedom Star, NASA's solid rocket booster recovery
ship, is waiting to tow the tank to Kennedy.
At Kennedy, ET-138 will be processed for flight, mated with twin
solid rocket boosters and attached to space shuttle Endeavour in
preparation for the last scheduled orbiter mission. The flight is
designated as STS-134 and targeted to launch on Feb. 26, 2011.
The external tank designated ET-122 will be refurbished at
Michoud and also shipped to Kennedy in late September. It is
assigned to the "launch on need" for STS-134; in the unlikely event
a rescue mission is needed. ET-122 was damaged during Hurricane
Katrina in August 2005 and is being restored to flight
During a launch, the external tank delivers 535,000 gallons of
hydrogen and oxygen liquid propellants to the three main engines,
which power the shuttle to orbit. The tank is covered by
polyurethane-like foam, with an average thickness of about one
inch. The foam insulates the propellants; keeps ice from forming on
the tank's exterior; and protects its aluminum skin from
aerodynamic heat during flight.
The external tank is the largest element of the space shuttle,
which also includes the orbiter, main engines and twin solid rocket
boosters. It measures 27.6 feet wide and 154 feet tall. Despite the
tank's size, its aluminum skin is only one-eighth-inch thick in
most areas. Yet, it withstands more than 7.5 million pounds of
thrust during liftoff and ascent. The tank is the only major
shuttle component that is not reused.