Driving the Space Shuttle

How a team of experts navigated a spaceship through the streets of L.A.

The orbiter Endeavour dwarfs Sarens operator Gordon Lofts – and everyone else along the route – as it negotiates the 12 miles from airport to science center. (Sarens)

(Continued from page 1)

Were you nervous, knowing you had to handle this artifact?

Lofts: The closer we got… I don’t want to say nervousness or apprehension, but the importance grew because the media was blowing it up and there were all the people, and holy cow, you can either come off looking pretty good or you can come off looking pretty bad if something doesn’t work correctly or you have some problems. It did take us longer than we estimated, but we were supposed to have clearances and a lot of those clearances just were not there. They couldn’t move trees or they couldn’t move poles or any of those things that had to happen to give us clearance, so it became much more intricate of a move than it started out to be.

What was a particularly difficult obstacle that you had to choreograph movement around?

Dominy: One of the biggest challenges was getting permission to cross a bridge over the 405 interstate. California doesn’t really allow the type of equipment that we use, so we had to move the shuttle over to different equipment just to cross this one bridge. That was the area where Toyota filmed a commercial – they towed it across with their pick-up truck.

How did you deal with any obstacles you just couldn’t move?

Lofts: We had a lot of the close places mapped out ahead of time. We knew where several of them were, but the problem was that there turned out to be a lot more than we ever envisioned there were going to be. The wingspan was 78 feet, and they had told us we’d have 80 feet [of clearance] in all but maybe eight or ten places.

Wow, that’s still close.

Lofts: Oh, that wasn’t even close. There were places where we didn’t even have the 78 feet. So now you have to get creative. We would turn it a little bit diagonal and lower one wingtip and raise the other, and make its footprint a little bit smaller. Even then, there were places where you would not have wanted to have your finger between the load and the obstruction, because it was going to hurt. This is when you relied on skilled operators, telling you what clearance you had on each wingtip. The steering mechanism on this particular transporter is infinitely variable, so you would make extremely minor adjustments. When you’ve got an inch or two of clearance on something that’s 80 feet wide, you’re not talking about huge steering maneuvering, you’re talking about very delicate, very finite maneuvering. And this turned out to be hundreds of times – it was supposed to be 10 or 12 times, and it turned out to be hundreds of times.

Can you describe the haulers you were using?

Lofts: The truck – that was a publicity stunt for Toyota. Toyota gave the [California] Science Center $10 million to be able to film a commercial showing it pulling it across the freeway. That was a wide-open stretch, but it was a lot of work for us, because we had to take the regular transporting equipment out and set it up for the Toyota.

All of the real maneuvering on the road was done on KAMAGs, the SPMTs. We had four separate trailers. At times they would be closely coupled, and then there were other times when there was 21 feet between them, so we could straddle a median and other things that were in the center of the road, so the load would go over and around it. Then at other places it was too narrow to be that wide, so they would be coupled a little closer. 

These [SPMTs] are an engineering marvel. They each have their own drive motor and drive wheels, and they’re computer-controlled. As long as you program the computers accurately, you just tell them what to do; each trailer knows where the other one is, so that when they move, they move as a unit. You change your programming based on the configuration of the equipment for that segment of the move.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus