A big piece of NASA history showed up in San Diego Bay over the weekend, but it won’t be in town long.
The giant orange-colored rocket-shaped object is called ET-94 and it’s making news for several reasons, on an historic trip from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
“If you show them a picture of a space shuttle stack, they immediately identify it as the big orange thing, but I don’t think most people realized this is what housed all of our propellants,” said Dennis Jenkins, Project Director for the Samuel Oschin Air & Space Center, which is where it's headed.
The $60 million external fuel tank that held 1.5 million pounds of fuel needed to get the space shuttles into orbit is the only one left in the world.
NASA built 136 of the fuel tanks over the years, which if laid flat, measure out to half a football field in length. The other 135 disintegrated on actual missions.
"It lasted about 8 and a half minutes to get to orbit and then the tank was jettisoned and burned up on re-entry. This one survived because we never flew it,” said Jenkins.
Following the 2003 Columbia Shuttle Disaster, caused by a foam strike from the same kind of tank, scientists picked apart the foam exterior of ET-94 searching for answers.
Now, it's on a remarkable journey for display alongside the shuttle Endeavor. Similar to Endeavor, it will make its way through 16 miles of Los Angeles streets starting late Saturday night.
The journey began last month in New Orleans, where the tanks were built. A tugboat dragged the barge and its space cargo through the Panama Canal.
Last Thursday, the adventure took a turn when the crew rescued a liferaft full of stranded fishermen in the rough seas about 200 miles south of San Diego. The rescued men got off the boat at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal as the barge docked for some work.
Jenkins said the tugboat was scheduled to leave the terminal Tuesday morning and head to Marina Del Rey.
That is when the real logistical challenge starts through the streets of Los Angeles.