Pegasus Passes Chef Mentur Pass — Approaching Rigolets Inlet

10:30 p.m. Central Time

Pegasus is fast (5 miles per hour) approaching the Rigolets Inlet. Upon reaching the Rigolets, Pegasus will be towed/pushed south into the eastern edge of Lake Borgne and then on into the Mississippi Sound proper. A 871 Detroit Diesel located below the crew quarters drones steadily, now providing all electrical power on board — internal lighting for the crew and electrical appliances, as well as external running lights required for safe waterborne operations. 

A few minutes ago a fast-moving, high-riding fuel barge being pushed by a tug boat rapidly overtook Pegasus and disappeared down the Intracoastal Waterway. Another barge is moving toward us from the east. Lots of traffic tonight; exciting stuff! Tow cables snap occasionally against the tow bridle, caused when the tug boat slides from side-to-side to maintain its forward progress. Half the crew is sleeping, resting up for night watches that begin at midnight and 3 a.m.

The crew is sustained tonight by a hearty, piping hot chili packed with Ro-tel diced tomatoes and ; pinto/kidney/chili beans…cooked down earlier and eaten all evening, courtesy of this-blogger-turned-cook.

Aarg! Aarg! On to the Mississippi Sound!

Life on Board Pegasus: Keeping ET Safe and Sound

Life on board Pegasus is a mixture of work, mainly checks and servicing of machinery; monitoring the status of the VIP, ET-134 in this case, monitoring the status of the towing operation and filling in the day with opportunities for exercise and relaxing. 

The total floor space of the crew quarters is something like living in an RV (with somewhat higher ceilings). Trappings are non existent; the basics for preparing food, personal hygiene and sleeping bunks are provided and would make any Spartan soldier used to sleeping on rocks more than comfortable.

Above the crew quarters is an area equivalent to a foredeck, open to the sea, where large and heavy, linked chain lie on deck waiting to be hooked up to the tow line, whether provided by the tug boats or the Liberty Star or Freedom Star.

Above the foredeck is the bridge; a fully enclosed operations center permitting monitoring the status of the towing operations, monitoring ET-134’s safe and happy transit via video and observation of the sea; much smaller than Liberty Star; with fewer electronics.

Once under way a member of the crew stands watch at all times throughout the six day voyage, moving throughout the barge checking running lights, machinery and bilges, the lowest point on the barge, and of course ET.

Behind the crew quarters is the cavernous cargo deck area housing ET-134. The cargo bay or deck is more than sufficient to house ET-134’s 154 foot-length, 27 foot-diameter, and 58,000 lbs. Vibration incurred during the transit is recorded throughout the trip, and analyzed after arriving at Kennedy Space Center. 

ET-134 is no longer entirely residing its original mobile transporter in quite the same way it arrived on deck. It actually is now suspended or mounted on four large pedestals lifting ET off the transporters’ four large wheel assemblies, but at the same time attached at three points to the transporters upper arms and rear structure. This permits ET to ride the seas and absorb motion just like Pegasus; no shifting to port or starboard, fore or aft.  ET is taking the second best voyage of its life; waiting for its flight into space.

Meet the Pegasus Crew

I’m getting to know the crew of the Pegasus barge now and sitting down to learn what it’s like to care for and voyage with the Very Important Passengers (VIPs) of these seaborne trips from Michoud Assembly Facility to Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

No, the VIP is not the blogging public affairs officer. The VIP is one of the most pampered, carefully assembled, machined, hand-crafted, and handsome external tanks ever built that fuel the space shuttle’s thirsty main engines. The VIP behind us on the deck of the Pegasus is ET-134.  This tank sails under the care of Pegasus’ four-person barge crew and in time, in early 2010, it will fly into space.  ET-134 voyages over the sea with Pegasus in good company.

Meet The Pegasus Crew

Richard J. Gager Jr., Boatswain, Lead Crewman on Pegasus

Boatswain Richard Gager (Rick), 52, was born in Newburgh, NY.  Newburgh is near the Intersection of Interstates 84 and 87 and just north of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on the Hudson.

He grew up in Houston Texas, graduated James Madison High and joined the U.S. Coast Guard right out of high school.

Richard retired after 20 years in the U.S Coast Guard as a Chief Boatswains Mate (E-7) with qualifications as Officer in Charge Ashore and Afloat , and as Under Way Officer of the Deck on board a U.S. Coast Guard harbor tug, the USCGC Capstan, three inland construction tenders; the USCGC Axe, USCGC Anvil, and USCGC Wedge. The Wedge was later converted to a river buoy tender where Rick served as the vessel’s Executive Petty Officer.

During his Coast Guard career, he served in Mobile, Ala.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Destin, Fla.; the Washington, D.C. area; New Orleans, La.; Demopolis, Ala.; and New Smyrna Beach, Fla. Also, Rick is a qualified Search & Rescue/Law Enforcement Boat Coxswain  and a graduate of the USCG Maritime Law Enforcement School. 

On board Pegasus, Rick is Lead Crewmen (Boatswain).

When not herding external tanks between Kennedy Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility, Rick likes riding his Harley with his wife and generally working around the house.

B. H. Conway, Able Bodied Seaman

Pegasus AB Seaman Bernard Conway (Skip), a native New Yorker, says he is tied at the hip to the sea.  His decades of waterborne work have not diminished his love of all things aquatic as he describes himself straight forward as “always a Long Island waterman at heart.”  In the early 1980’s he relocated from New England to the Space Coast in the fishing industry and eventually found him plying the waters of the Indian River Lagoon, with a ring-side seat of many spectacular shuttle launches.

Other opportunities and a growing family, led Skip to seize the chance to go “tugging” as a tanker man with a large fuel and barge business.

In 1997, he joined USA’s marine operations as a crewmember on board the Liberty Star’s sister ship the Freedom Star. Skip now finds himself assigned to the Pegasus, where he serves as an Able Bodied Seaman.

What does he like about the life at sea?  He replies, “the daily sunrises and settings never fail to thrill me.” Skip has an extensive collection of photos (including the elusive “green flash”) to prove it. What’s a green flash? Here’s what Wikipedia says:

“Green flashes and green rays are optical phenomena that occur shortly after sunset or before sunrise, when a green spot is visible, usually for no more than a second or two, above the sun, or a green ray shoots up from the sunset point. Green flashes are actually a group of phenomena stemming from different causes, and some are more common than others. Green flashes can be observed from any altitude (even from an aircraft). They are usually seen at an unobstructed horizon, such as over the ocean, but are possible over cloud-tops and mountain-tops as well.”

Well! You do learn something every day!

Time away from work for Skip is mostly spent composing, recording, and performing his original music. 

David Harris, Pegasus Engineer

Dave is a unique member of the seafaring crew — he is a former U.S. Army paratrooper (1984-1988) with some 45 parachute jumps mostly from C-130 and C-141 Air Force transports and Army UH-1H Huey helicopters with the “All American,”  82nd Airborne Division.  Dave served as a small vehicle mechanic in the parachute rigger company of the 407th Supply and Transportation Battalion at Ft. Bragg, NC, Airborne!

Dave, 46, is a native of Toledo, Ohio and currently lives in Titusville, Fla., nearby the Kennedy Space Center. 

When asked how he transitioned from airborne operations to seaborne operations he said that after leaving the Army in 1988 he started in logistics operations at the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center working with stacking Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) and in 1994 transitioned to marine operations as a SRB retrieval diver.

Today, Dave serves as the marine engineer of Pegasus with responsibilities for all mechanical and machinery operations. He assists with deck operations during external tank delivery operations and at home base assists with SRB disassembly technical support and SRB retrieval.

When not on the job Dave likes to, relax with family, play with his grandson and work around the house and yard. Airborne!

Jim Harrington, Ordinary Seaman

Let’s meet some more of the horsepower of the Pegasus. Jim Harrington, 51, was raised in Scotts Hill, Tennessee (population of 150). That’s halfway between Memphis and Nashville. Jim grew up with no running water or electricity and says about his early upbringing, “if you didn’t grow it or catch it, you didn’t eat!” Jim’s family later moved to the Chicago area, where he graduated from Crete-Monee High School in Crete, Ill. 

After high school Jim joined the U.S. Navy, ultimately serving in the submarine service for nine and one half years. Jim served on the submarine USS Thomas Alva Edison SSBN 610 & submarine USS Henry Clay SSBN 618, both were “boomers” or ballistic missile subs, as a Navigation Electronics Technician 1st Class.

While on shore duty and still in the Navy, stationed at the Naval Ordinance Test Unit Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, he enjoyed working in an electronics shop which permitted him to go to sea often with the naval test unit.

After serving in the Navy Jim joined the maritime operations team that services the NASA Solid Rocket Booster recovery ships, working for USA. 

Jim has now served 21 years in USA Marine Operations in a variety of jobs including retrieval diver, deck supervisor, and as crew member on Freedom Star and Liberty Star.

Currently working as a marine electrical technician, he holds marine credentials as a Qualified Member Engine Department, Junior Engineer and Ordinary Seaman. He supports Solid Rocket Booster Recovery operations, booster disassembly, external tank tow operations, and marine operations supporting NOAA and the Navy.

When not on the job, Jim enjoys boating, scuba diving, fishing, archery, hunting, being with family and Harley riding.

Dennis Loggins, Able Bodied Seaman

Dennis is not on this particular trip, but since he is regular member of the Pegasus crew he wants everyone to know the care and happy voyage of external tanks is his top working priority. 

Dennis, 35, is from Merritt Island, Fla., nearby the Kennedy Space Center. He has attended college at Seminole Community College and is currently completing coursework and licensing through the Maritime Professional Training Institute, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Twenty one years on the water on everything from commercial fishing vessels to working for cruise lines to dockside repairs and recreational sport fishing, has honed his maritime skills and increased his interests in the sea.

Dennis’ duties and responsibilities on board Pegasus are to maintain overall seaworthiness, handling lines, general maintenance and repairs, and making tow.

When asked what he likes about the seaborne life-style he said, “I truly enjoy the excitement and vastness of the open water.  I also enjoy the many opportunities to learn about and observe the sea made available by serving on these ships.” 

When not on the job as shepherd of external tanks to Kennedy Space Center, he likes to spend time hunting, fishing and time with his family.

Pegasus Ready for Sea,Skies Are Blue,High Winds Remain The Issue — Aarg!

The Pegasus crew rallied today on the barge for inspections and machinery checkouts; reporting all is well; Pegasus and ET-134 are in great shape and ready to sail. Crew members Lead Technician Rick Gager, Pegasus Engineer Dave Harris, Able Bodied Seaman Skip Conway, and Ordinary Seaman Jim Harrington made inspections and checks and checked on the weather forecast. 

The crew of Pegasus gathers on the bridge on Friday afternoon under clear blue skies
but intensifying winds. Pegasus is ready to get under way; waiting only for lessening winds.
The Pegasus crew from left to right — Engineer Dave Harris of Toledo, Ohio; Ordinary
Seaman Jim Harrington of Scotts Hill, Tenn.; Able Bodied Seaman Skip Conway of
New York, NY; and Lead Crewman Rick Gager of Newburgh, NY. Credit: NASA

During the night a the cold front passed thru the New Orleans area as forecast,  bringing rain and winds, some gusting to 30 knots near Michoud Assembly Facility.  Under bright , beautiful and clearing skies the winds have intensified as predicted. The current forecast calls for unrelenting winds through Saturday into Sunday afternoon. The first best opportunity to get underway via the tug boats is Sunday evening and the maritime operations team is eyeing the Sunday evening window very closely. For now, winds prohibiting departure are intensifying.
On a more positive note the crew and visitors assembled in the Pegasus’ galley for a meal of homemade split pea soup, piping hot, fit for a sailor, thickened with nice beefy chunks of ham, carrots and onions and topped off with multigrain muffins; best ever eaten on the face of the Earth by any sailors at sea or in port. Aarg! Indeed!

Pegasus: The 'Winged Horse' of the Space Program

Transporting one of NASA’s external tanks from Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is no simple operation. The external tank, which is 153.8 ft long, 27.6 feet in diameter and weighs approximately 58,500 pounds, is transported via a specially designed and built, ocean-going barge. The barge, known as the Pegasus, is 266 ft long and 50 ft wide and is currently utilized by the Space Shuttle Program to transport external tanks over 900 miles of inland and open ocean waterways from the Michoud Assembly Facility to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. For this trip external tank number 134 (ET-134) is our Very Important Passenger — a genuine VIP. 

Three seamen and one technician crew the barge 24/7 when underway from the barge’s regular mooring site near the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center.

In Greek mythology Pegasus is a winged horse, captured by and made to serve warrior Bellerophon. Among the many versions of Pegasus’ role and life there are two that seem to stand out. In one version Pegasus brings forth water or fresh springs where ever she steps. In another version Pegasus brings forth lightning or is the god of lightning. The role of NASA’s Pegasus seems to integrate both these mythological versions; NASA’s Pegasus lives, works and travels on water. And Pegasus delivers to the Kennedy Space Center the external tanks that feed the smoke and fire of a space shuttle launch; smoke, fire, thunder, and awe.

For many years the Pegasus, towed by the reusable solid rocket booster (RSRB) recovery ships, took the route through the Mississippi River — Gulf Outlet (MRGO) out to the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, MRGO was closed to larger ships due to significant shoaling and severe erosion caused by Hurricane Katrina. This route was utilized up through ET-128 and took approximately 4 -5 days for the barge to arrive on dock at Kennedy.

Today Pegasus is towed by two commercial tug boats along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) through the Mississippi Sound to Gulfport, Miss. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway route is approximately 25 miles longer, with one day added to the travel schedule.  Solid rocket booster recovery ship Liberty Star will meet Pegasus at Gulfport, take Pegasus in tow and depart south into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Pegasus is manned 24 hours a day from the time it leaves Kennedy, goes to MAF and returns to Kennedy. On average, a round trip takes between 10-11 days.  Once the last external tank is shipped, the barge will be utilized by Ares I Upper Stage which also plans to use the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway route.

Marshall Space Flight Center engineers developed the technical requirements for the Pegasus Barge, Halter Marine created the design and produced the drawings. Gulf Coast Fabricators of Pascagoula, Miss., constructed and completed the 1,648 ton Pegasus in June 1999. 

NASA has used many barges to transport large spacecraft components from their respective manufacturing sites to Kennedy. Other NASA barges including Orion, Poseidon, Little Lake, Palaemon, Pearl River, Promise and USNS Point Barrow were used to tow Saturn vehicle components between Marshall , MAF, California and Stennis Research Center to Kennedy in Florida. Of the older barges, only Poseidon remains docked at Stennis, awaiting final disposition.

Pegasus Looking Ahead to Weather Decision Later Today

Pegasus and crew are ready to get under way from the dock at Michoud Assembly Facility in East New Orleans pending a weather decision later today. Weather forecast does show winds prohibiting departure of Pegasus diminishing in the afternoon. Current winds up to 25 knots — that’s about 30 miles per hour — are expected to drop to around 15 knots or 17 miles per hour during the afternoon.  Cloudless skies and very cool temperatures are making for a very pleasant morning in the New Orleans area. 

Take a look at this video shot by Marshall television producer Mick Speer of the roll put to the dock, loading and securing the cargo doors of Pegasus; plus some video of Pegasus at the dock over the weekend.

A New Logistics System for the 'Right Stuff'

Hi everyone! We’re here at Michoud Assembly Facility waiting to sail with ET-134 to the Kennedy Space Center. Thought I’d share with you a little history about how NASA developed the logistics system to move and support all this heavy, outsized spacecraft hardware.

ET-134 moves inside the Pegasus covered barge at NASA’s Michoud Assembly
Facility. Credit: Lockheed Martin

When the space program kicked into high gear in the early 1960s the equipment necessary to move the very large components of spacecraft did not exist. In fact, the lack of necessary equipment almost became a limiting factor when preparing spacecraft designs and considering how to move them to launch sites, the primary location being Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

NASA used barges for transporting full-sized stages for the Saturn I, Saturn IB,
and Saturn V vehicles between the Marshall Space Flight Center; the  Michoud Assembly
Facility; the Mississippi Test Facility, now Stennis Space Center; and the Kennedy
Space Center. Credit: NASA

An agency-level logistics office was created at NASA Headquarters in Washington to orchestrate and coordinate a complex set of requirements based on a new and developing program, the Saturn/Apollo Program, and very geographically dispersed set of players, including various NASA centers, test sites, launch sites, suppliers, contractors, and manufacturers; an amazing challenge.

Spacecraft could be built, but now they had to be moved. In the early 1960s Marshall Space Flight Center developed its own logistics management office and began developing plans for a “fleet” of specialized transporters to move the “right stuff.”

Eventually, with assistance and vessels from the U.S. Navy, NASA developed its own ocean-going fleet of seven barges capable of transporting most of the components of the Saturn/Apollo program from home bases to Kennedy Space Center for launch operations.

Aerial view of NASA Dock at Michoud Assembly Facility with four barges, left to right,
Paleamon, Promise, Poseidon and Orion. The barges ferried Saturn IB and
Saturn V stages between the Marshall Space Center; the Michoud Assembly
Facility; the Mississippi Test Facility, now Stennis Space Center; and the
Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

A smaller fleet of two oversize and heavily modified aircraft known as the Super Guppy and the Pregnant Guppy were procured for movement by air of Saturn F-1 engines, lunar modules and S-IVB stages.

NASA’s B377SGT Super Guppy Turbine cargo aircraft touches down at Edwards
Air Force Base, Calif., June 11, 2000, to deliver the latest version of the X-38 flight
test vehicle to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. Credit: NASA

Also, NASA made use of the railroads for moving Saturn propellants and even U.S. Army CH-47 helicopters to move large components from long distances for testing at Marshall.

The NASA Railroad train moves along the track through NASA Kennedy Space
Center’s Launch Complex 39 area. Behind the locomotive car is the Vehicle Assembly
Building. The train is hauling solid rocket booster segments from the STS-122
mission. After a mission, the spent boosters are recovered, cleaned, disassembled,
refurbished and reused. After hydrolasing the interior of each segment,
they are placed on flatbed trucks and individual booster segments are transferred
to a railhead located at the railroad yard. Credit: NASA

The Space Shuttle Program inherited significant experience and a well-oiled logistics machine from the Saturn Program. Shuttle components are moved by a wide variety of outsized transporters just as in the days of Saturn/Apollo. 

Today, components that make up the solid rocket motors (segments and aft exit cones) are transported cross-country via rail beginning in Utah where they are manufactured. With the help of multiple railroad companies, these components typically spend less than two weeks riding over the rail before arriving at the Kennedy Space Center. Once the components are offloaded, assembled, and ultimately flown in space, they are recovered, disassembled, inspected, and ultimately the segments are transported back to Utah on the same rail that brought them to Kennedy. At this stage in the process the hardware is refurbished and made ready for future flight opportunities.  Solid rocket booster components (forward assemblies, aft skirts) are manufactured at the Assembly and Refurbishment Facility at KSC and transported via ground support equipment over the Kennedy road system to the respective Kennedy facilities where these components are integrated with the solid rocket motor segments. Solid rocket booster hardware and solid rocket motor hardware, when integrated together, make up the space shuttle reusable solid rocket booster. Essentially, NASA is a railroad man as well.

Space shuttle solid rocket motor segments are transported cross-country via rail from
Utah, where they are manufactured, to the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Credit: NASA

External tanks such as ET-134, as you know already, move by barge and towing ship from New Orleans to Kennedy Space Center over water and space shuttle main engines move by truck. Some NASA equipment, such as specialized cargo or payloads for the International Space Station are moved by Super Guppy, stationed at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas.   

The space shuttle orbiter flies everywhere it goes, except for short distances over ground at Kennedy. If the orbiter has to land away from Kennedy due to weather, such as at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., a special Boeing 747 pulls up and flies the orbiter back to Kennedy “piggy-back” style in just a few days.

Southern California’s high desert provides the backdrop as one of NASA’s two
modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft ferries Space Shuttle Atlantis back to the
Kennedy Space Center after departing NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center
at Edwards Air Force Base. Credit: NASA/J. Ross

Future space program hardware will likely make use of this same or similar means of transportation for movement from point of origin to the Kennedy Space Center for launch operations. 

Liberty Star’s mission to tow ET-134 to Kennedy is essentially part of a bigger NASA logistics operation.

It has been said that logistics is everything. It may be. You simply have to have the “right stuff” at the right place at the right time…to make a difference.

ET-134 Loaded on Pegasus Barge — Aarg!!!!! Weather Delay!

ET-134 completed a flawless early morning move across Michoud Assembly Facility to the dock and the awaiting Pegasus Barge.  Loading went perfectly as ET-134 rolled to a snug fit in the cargo deck area of Pegasus. The crew has completed final inspections, walk downs and the cargo doors are closed and sealed. Pegasus is in great shape and ready to sail.

Unfortunately, a cold front is forecast to pass through the east Louisiana area and be followed by high winds over the next several days. Weather teams are forecasting high winds during the time period when Pegasus would transit the Intracoastal Waterway and Mississippi Sound. We are definitely delayed sailing today, Thursday, Oct. 15. The Maritime Operations teams will be evaluating the forecast on a daily basis for an opportunity to proceed to Gulfport, Miss. 

Aarg!  Pegasus is chomping at the bit.  Stay tuned.

ET-134 Rolls Out to the Dock

ET-134 has rolled out to the dock at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility and loaded onto the Pegasus barge — the first step in its long journey. Walt Adams, supervisor of  Pegasus barge operations, discusses the weather delay in shipping ET-134, as well as conditions for safe shipment of the external fuel tank through the Intracoastal Waterway and the Mississippi Sound to Gulfport, Miss.

Watch the interview (Windows, streaming)

ET-134 rolls out of Building 420 at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility for
its trip to the dock and loading onto the Pegasus barge. Credit: Lockheed Martin

ET-134 continues its move to the dock at Michoud Assembly Facility on the
morning of Oct. 15. The move was executed flawlessly in approximately one hour.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

 ET-134 continues its trip to the Michoud docks. Credit: Lockheed Martin

ET-134 makes an early morning move on Oct. 15 across Michoud Assembly facility
to the dock in preparation for loading. Credit: Lockheed Martin 

Marshall television producer Mick Speer visually documents the movement of ET-134
through NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility to the dock in preparation for loading
on board the Pegasus barge. Credit: Lockheed Martin

ET-134 moves inside the Pegasus covered barge. Credit: Lockheed Martin

ET-134 is moved onto the Pegasus barge. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Marshall Television producer Mick Speer, left, and Steve Roy, public affairs
spokesperson and blogger for Marshall Space Flight Center, are pictured during
loading operations of ET-134 on Thursday, Oct. NASA’s Michoud Facility
Assembly in New Orleans. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Pegasus barge operations supervisor Walt Adams, right, of United Space Alliance
discusses final loading procedures and weather forecasts for the next several days
with Marshall public affairs spokesperson Steve Roy, left. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Pegasus barge Able Bodied Seaman B.H. “Skip” Conway greets Marshall
spokesperson and blogger Steve Roy at the Michoud dock as ET-134 is loaded and
secured to the barge. Credit: Lockheed Martin

ET-134 as it is guided onto the Pegasus barge during the early morning hours of
Thursday, Oct. 15, in preparation for departure to Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Lockheed Martin

Pegasus barge operations supervisor Walt Adams stands on the bow of the barge
Pegasus during loading of external tank, ET-134, at the Michoud Assembly
Facility dock. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Sailing with NASA

Last week, one of NASA’s Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster Recovery (SRB) ships, the Liberty Star, sailed from its dock at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, picked up the tow of NASA’s Pegasus barge and headed south along the Atlantic coast, through the Straits of Florida, and across the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Gulfport, Gulfport, Miss.  The Liberty Star arrived at Gulfport, Miss., today, October 13. Two small tug boats then picked up Pegasus and towed her to Michoud Assembly facility in East New Orleans. In the early morning hours of Friday, October 16, Pegasus will arrive back in Gulfport where Liberty Star will again take the barge in tow and begin the return voyage back across the Gulf and the Straits of Florida to deliver a very important passenger to the Kennedy Space Center.

It’s a journey the Liberty Star and her sister ship, the Freedom Star, have made repeatedly since 1996.  That year the booster recovery ships were pressed into service to tow Pegasus for the major part of the voyage between Michoud Assembly Facility in East New Orleans in lieu of using commercial tug boats the entire distance. 

As mentioned above commercial tug boats are still used to tow Pegasus at the very beginning of the journey in Louisiana and Mississippi and during the final miles in a shallow and narrow channel to the turn basin in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. 

The very important passenger (VIP) that needs to be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center, on time and in good shape, is one of the most important elements of what is known as the “Shuttle Stack,” the complete towering Shuttle Transportation System. The “Stack” includes the Orbiter, the three Space Shuttle Main Engines, the two reusable solid rocket boosters and motors and the very important passenger that will ride the Pegasus; an external tank numbered 134.

ET-134 will be the backbone of the “Shuttle Stack” and the gas tank for the space shuttle main engines for the February 2010 launch of space shuttle Endeavour’s flight to the International Space Station, mission number STS-130.

Watch how an external tank “goes to sea” (Windows, streaming)

NASA public affairs officer, Steve Roy (that’s me) of the Marshall Space Flight Center, will travel on board the Pegasus and Liberty Star to give you some insight into NASA’s maritime operations and life on board the vessels that make these important 1,800 mile round trips, as well as the story of the VIP of the trip, ET-134. Steve will be joined by NASA television producer Mick Speer of Marshall Television, a former U.S. Navy photographer and television production specialist. Steve will blog via the NASA portal several times a day with updates, images and video.

To begin I’d like to explain the relationship between SRB recovery ships, the Pegasus barge, Michoud Assembly Facility and my NASA center, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.  The Marshall Center exercises overall management responsibilities for NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility where the external tanks are built by Lockheed Martin. Marshall also has management responsibility for the manufacturing, assembly and delivery of the external tanks as part of the space shuttle transportation system, as well as the solid rocket boosters and motors and space shuttle main engines.

Management responsibility for the solid rocket boosters includes their recovery at sea. The prime contractor under Marshall for booster recovery is United Space Alliance (USA) in Cape Canaveral. USA runs all aspects of day-to-day maritime operations for NASA including training crews, readiness of the NASA fleet, real time booster recovery operations, and towing external tanks for the majority of the trip to Kennedy Space Center.

From a Flickr Photo Gallery: “Booster Recovery at Sea”

I am the NASA public affairs officer with responsibility to support all aspects of the external tanks, reusable solid rocket boosters and motors and the space shuttle main engines. Thus by definition, and lucky for me, I am the NASA public affairs officer, along with the public affairs staff of United Space Alliance, with responsibility to support the role of the recovery ships, Freedom Star and Liberty Star, as well as the Pegasus barge.

I am but one spokesperson in a greater NASA public affairs team that supports space flight operations of the space shuttle, expendable launch vehicles and the International Space Station. That team includes the public affairs space operations teams at NASA Headquarters, Washington D.C.; at Johnson Space Center in Texas; at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida; at Stennis Research Center in Mississippi; and the team at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The space operations public affairs team also includes other public affairs representatives at United Space Alliance (USA), which includes the major orbiter subcontractor Boeing, in Florida and Texas; Lockheed Martin/Michoud Assembly Facility (LM/MAF builds external tanks) in Louisiana; Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) builds space shuttle main engines) in California and Florida, and ATK (ATK builds RSRMs) in Utah.

Sounds complicated uh? It’s not so bad when you’re in the middle of it. Let’s get ready to go.  Grab your binoculars, flip flops, sun screen, folding chair and snacks and head to your computer. Join the voyage and Sail with NASA!