NEW ORLEANS, July 8 (UPI) — The giant fuel tank that will be used on the last scheduled U.S. space shuttle mission got its own send-off Thursday as it rolled off the assembly line.
NASA and Lockheed Martin marked the occasion at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, home of more than three decades of specialized tank work for the space program, the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel reported.
Each 158-foot tank is welded and then sprayed with a blanket of insulating foam, plant officials said. After it is sanded, inspected and trimmed, the tank is finished with custom-fitted foam pieces and foam sprayed into hard-to-reach places by hand.
“What these folks do, they are craftsmen,” said Terry Lee, Michoud’s associate manager. “To be able to spray this foam, trim this foam, pour this foam and all the other tasks that go along with it, that’s a craft.”
Taller than the Statue of Liberty sans pedestal and shaped like a giant orange bullet, the shuttle’s external tank is built from scratch from 58,500 pounds of aluminum, wire and insulating foam, the Sentinel said. When the shuttle’s three main engines finish burning 500,000 gallons of supercold liquid oxygen and hydrogen, the tank is jettisoned — about 8 1/2 minutes into the flight, burning up as it returns to Earth.
With only two shuttle flights remaining, the tank line has been winding to a close.
“It was a pretty bittersweet feeling,” said Jason Holbrook, 53, who started spraying foam in 1981. “I always feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in what we do, but knowing that it was the last actual production tank was a little depressing.”
The last scheduled space shuttle mission is in February, when Endeavour travels to the International Space Station.
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