NASA Fuel Tank Rides Through the Streets of L.A.

Witness the final leg of one special spaceship part’s epic journey.

byMax Prince| PUBLISHED May 22, 2016 7:31 PM
NASA Fuel Tank Rides Through the Streets of L.A.

People have been calling it The Space Banana. But ET-94, the last remaining external fuel tank from NASA’s space shuttle program, isn’t actually yellow. It’s orange, a kind of rust color. It’s never actually been to space, either. Still, the thing’s 15 stories tall and weighs over 32 tons. Laying flat, it’s roughly as long as football field. So when ET-94 came parading through the streets of Los Angeles this weekend, people took notice.

NASA fuel tank in transit through Los Angeles on Saturday, May 21. The city had to trim trees and shut down traffic to accomodate the move., MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty

It's the last leg of an epic journey. NASA originally took delivery of the tank in January, 2001. But, instead of heading into space, ET-94 ended up serving as a cadaver, poked and prodded and dissected by investigators in the wake of the Columbia disaster in 2003. When the program disbanded, the tank found a new home on display with Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center. First, though, it had to get there.

Leaving port from New Orleans on April 11., Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty

That meant traveling by barge from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility, in Louisiana, to Marina del Ray, a trip spanning 4,000 nautical miles and over six weeks. Once at port in California, ET-94 was loaded on a special caravan transport truck, and tugged through the streets of Los Angeles, The trek took 19 hours in total.

Arriving in Marina del Ray on May 18., MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty

Now that it’s arrived at the Science Center, the tank it set for a quick restoration. ET-94 is the second-to-last piece in the Endeavour display; once rocket boosters are added, it’ll be the world’s only exhibition showing a space shuttle stack with genuine hardware.