The Inside Story: More About Liberty Star

Liberty Star is a working ship; working 24 hours a day. Join me for a short tour around this unique ship! Come on inside!

The Liberty Star. Credit: NASA/KSC

The Bridge Deck
This deck is the highest level above water other than climbing one of the radar, radio or signal masts. From this deck, the Bridge watch team has a good view of the surrounding sea and with only minimal effort a person can move quickly to observe all around the ship.

The Bridge holds ship maneuvering controls, the cluster of navigation and communication equipment necessary to safely control booster recovery operations and sail the vessel through busy sea lanes to and from Gulfport, Miss. The Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straights are very busy waterways and require much vigilance, especially for a vessel maintaining a quarter-mile tow. After normal duty hours the ship is controlled and monitored by the watch, a small team which performs all the important normal functions but with fewer members of the crew.

Lighting the Way
Not surprisingly lighting is very important to ship safety. Power-driven vessels, like Liberty Star, are required to conform to standard maritime lighting rules; the starboard (right side looking forward) side of the ship is lit with green lights, while the port side (left) shows red lights. The stern or aft (rear) of the ship displays a white light; the main mast has a forward looking white light; and the mast on the bow of the ship has another forward looking white light known as the range light. The job a vessel is engaged in is also indicated by her lights. For towing astern, Liberty is also displaying an additional amber light astern and two additional white lights on the foremast to indicate that she is towing astern, length of tow exceeding 200 meters.

Flag It
As ancient a tradition as it seems, the Liberty Star maintains and regularly uses a standard set of nautical flags to communicate its status or intentions to other ships or aircraft. 

The International Code of Signals uses a set of 40 nautical flags. These signals were created to aid communication between boats, in both times of calm and distress. Each flag has a letter equivalent, and can be used to spell out messages. In addition, some flags have individual meaning and can be used by themselves or in combination with others to convey a message.

The International Code of Signals

For instance, the B-flag or Bravo flag is all red and indicates a vessel carrying or transferring dangerous cargo; the H-flag or Hotel flag (white and red) signals a pilot is on board the vessel helping the Captain steer in unfamiliar waters; the O-flag, Oscar, is yellow and red and ominously signals a man over board; and the flag with a white background and red x stretching from corner to corner indicates a ship requiring assistance. A very common nautical flag to Americans — frequently seen on automobile front bumpers — is a red background with a single white flash, indicating a diver down, is now an accepted as an international signal for a diver. The internationally recognized signal for diver down is the A-flag or Alfa flag and is white and blue. 

Many nautical flags signal the plight of seafaring vessels, such as dragging anchor, making no headway or on fire. Aarg…!

Today, displayed proudly high on the main mast is a flag with which you are intimately familiar; our national colors, the good old Stars and Stripes, looking good, holding fast, flying high.

They’re certified, for sure: Each member of the crew is certified, that is, they’re qualified to perform their respective tasks and responsibilities. On Liberty Star crew members’ certificates of qualification are posted for all to see on the bridge. Together, the certificates literally mean tens of thousands of hours of study, examination, assessment, experience and know-how within a single ten-person crew and many of the crew members are qualified as captains of vessels by their own right. For instance, in addition to Captain Nicholas, Chief Mate John Bensen and Bosun’s Mate John Jacobs also hold Captain’s licenses.

The Forecastle or 0-1 Deck
Immediately beneath the Bridge Deck resides the small 0-1 Deck. The 0-1 Deck is quite limited providing only the quarters for the Captain, as well as working and sleeping quarters for visitors such as scientists or observers. 

The Main Deck
The main deck is home to a great deal of physical work. It extends from beneath the forecastle deck all the way to the aft end of the ship where today we can see the towing cable strung over the stern into the Gulf of Mexico on to Pegasus. 

The main deck houses a general purpose workshop which in turn houses the main deck air conditioner, storage for a wide assortment of hand tools — some that you would easily recognize because you have them in your own garage and some you wouldn’t, storage for diving equipment, air compressors, emergency fire fighting pumps (Aarg!), an emergency generator and welding equipment. Elsewhere on the enclosed portion of the main deck we find a small lounge for recreation (maybe we’ll get to see Master and Commander, the movie), the cooks’ quarters, Bosun’s storage area forward in the bow, and most importantly the galley and the mess hall located mid ship. More to follow about the food… but generally breakfast is 7a.m. to 8 a.m.; lunch is 11 a.m. to noon and dinner is 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Outside in the weather portion of the main deck, we find a hyperbaric chamber for diver emergencies, a large double drum winch for towing operations, a large H-shaped structure through which the towing cable is passed, appropriately named the H-bit, the parachute reels used for booster recovery now stripped down to bare structure, and the Ambar boat. Fixed to the very aft of the stern on the main deck is a formidable device called the Texas bar, some 14 inches in diameter and 30 feet long it serves to help secure the towing cable and to accommodate side to side movement of the tow cable when the ship is underway, as we now are.

The Second Deck
A lot of physical work going on here also and we now are below the water line. Here we find the all important engine room housing the main propulsion for Liberty Star, two main engines made by General Motors providing a total of 2,900 horsepower turning two-six-foot propellers with controllable pitch. Controllable pitch provides greater response time and maneuverability. The engines generate 900 revolutions per minute (rpm) at full speed and at idle about 400 rpm. The Chief Engineer and the Assistant Engineer share continuous six hour watches monitoring the engines. Without these engines, Liberty Star could be in trouble. We also find two DD871 generators for providing electrical power for the vessel.

Aft of the engine room is the very aft end of the ship, a very cramped area called the lazarette. Here the rudder posts and steering gear are located.

Forward of the engine room is the engineer workshop. Here we find a fire suppression system for the engine room (Aarg!), more tools, and more fire-fighting equipment (Aarg!). Actually there some ten fire fighting stations located throughout the ship (Aarg!) and numerous fire extinguishers (Aarg!). Actually, all this fire-fighting equipment is a good thing; ready for any emergency and safety first.

Also, throughout the ship we find numerous hand-held telephones powered only by sound; electricity not needed. Ships can lose power. The Army has similar phones called TA-1/PTs.  You can see what these formidable phones look like in many World War II movies. Forward of the engine room we find nine staterooms for the crew, all simple straightforward sleeping areas with no frills and shower and bathroom facilities.

Also, we encounter one of the ship’s manually operated watertight doors, which I presume is only used when you are torpedoed (Aarg!) I immediately have a vision of water pouring through the ship, sailors being pulled through doors as they are being cranked closed, like in those World War II movies. Aarg! Too much imagination for one day!

The Freedom Star, sister ship to the Liberty Star. Image Credit: United Space Alliance

That’s the layout of Liberty Star and her sister ship, Freedom Star as well. Neat little hard-working ships. Spiffy. Ship-shape, just like you would expect. I’ll never sail on a cruise ship again. Too big!

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.

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!