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Huge NASA fuel tank to join Endeavour with another trip down LA streets

A massive external tank for NASA's space shuttle program is shown in this photo shared by Lockheed Martin. It is similar to ET-94, a tank acquired by the California Science Museum that will eventually be transported to Los Angeles to become part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit.
A massive external tank for NASA's space shuttle program is shown in this photo shared by Lockheed Martin. It is similar to ET-94, a tank acquired by the California Science Museum that will eventually be transported to Los Angeles to become part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit.
Lockheed Martin
A massive external tank for NASA's space shuttle program is shown in this photo shared by Lockheed Martin. It is similar to ET-94, a tank acquired by the California Science Museum that will eventually be transported to Los Angeles to become part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit.
The space shuttle Endeavour is seen on launch pad 39a after the rollback of the Rotating Service Structure (RSS), Thursday, April 28, 2011, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. During the 14-day mission, Endeavour and the STS-134 crew will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) and spare parts including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank and additional spare parts for Dextre. Launch is targeted for Friday, April 29 at 3:47 p.m. EDT. (Note: External tank shown is not ET-94)
NASA/Bill Ingalls
A massive external tank for NASA's space shuttle program is shown in this photo shared by Lockheed Martin. It is similar to ET-94, a tank acquired by the California Science Museum that will eventually be transported to Los Angeles to become part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit.
Note: External tank shown is not ET-94.


Three years after Space Shuttle Endeavour threaded its way across the streets of Los Angeles to its final home at the California Science Center, another gargantuan vessel could be making the same epic journey, the museum said Thursday.

The science center has acquired one of the giant orange external fuel tanks the shuttles once rode piggy-back into space. The donation from NASA will bring the museum one step closer to its mission of creating a “full stack” for Endeavour’s final display at the future Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. The plan is to present the shuttle in its launch position.

"I think NASA really shared our belief that the vision of building a full stack and having it in one place, the whole space shuttle system, was really valuable," President and CEO of the California Science Center Jeff Rudolph told KPCC.  "They knew that we'd been planning from the beginning to display Endeavour in launch position."

The tank, dubbed ET-94, is currently housed at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and is expected to begin its journey to L.A. sometime at the end of 2015 or in early 2016, depending on weather conditions and the progress of its own restoration, according to the museum. NASA's external tanks were not designed for reuse, so this one has never been used, and the museum said ET-94 is the only "flight-qualified" tank in existence.

ET-94 is the sister tank to ET-93 which was involved in the space shuttle Columbia accident. Columbia accident investigators spent a lot of time examining ET-94 and, in doing so, cut away some pieces of the foam, Rudolph said. These have to be restored before it goes on display. 

"We are thrilled that NASA has gifted the California Science Center and the city of Los Angeles with the last surviving flight-qualified space shuttle external tank (ET) in the world. The city plans to work with the Science Center to make this a great welcome and celebration as it did with Endeavour two and a half years ago," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a written statement.

Many Southern California residents will recall the shuttle’s own carefully orchestrated final journey, with splashy flyovers of key landmarks, a final trek over city streets, and the removal of dozens of trees and traffic signals to make way for its cumbersome, five-story frame.

ET-94 is a much bigger beast than the shuttle, but it is not expected to have quite the same impact on the local infrastructure. 

"It's going to be a lot easier to move because it's larger in volume, but it doesn't have wings so it's nowhere near as wide as Endeavour was," Rudolph said. "We're looking at about 32 feet vs. 78 feet wide."

Because it's narrower and lower to the ground, fewer utilities will be impacted and no trees will be removed along its route to the science center, though some may get a trim, the museum said in its statement.

Rudolph said the move might only take a day. 

"We're still working on all the logistics planning so we don't have a final route yet, but we're coordinating a meeting with the cities involved and others to make sure that we come up with a route," he said. 

For the trivia fans, the museum released the following fact sheets about the ET-94, which it dubbed the "last of the flight external tanks."

External tanks general fact sheet

ET-94 fact sheet

This story has been updated.