Light load: Packing up a NASA simulator

by Array

HOUSTON, Texas: It was used to give space shuttle astronauts some sense of the harsh realities of space travel, but NASA’s Full Fueslage Trainer needed some tender care and protection before making its final journey.

Following the closure of NASA’s shuttle program, the space agency offered some of its vehicles and equipment to museums and public institutions across the US. As previously reported, the shuttle Enterprise was sent to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.

The new home for the simulator, which has been in use since the 1970s, is the Seattle Museum of Flight, but getting the 7.3m (24ft) wooden crew compartment and its three engine-bell replicas—a total of 11,340kg (25,000 pounds) of equipment—to the museum required some creative packing.

The engine replicas could be sent by truck, but the simulator needed to be flown to Washington state on an over-sized cargo plane, the NASA Super Guppy.

In order to ensure the safe delivery of the trainer, it needed to be packed to prevent shipping damage. That required the use of 30 fabricated Ethafoam military grade polyethylene foam blocks and more than 227kg (500 pounds) of Instapak polyurethane foam from Sealed Air Protective Packaing. The 30cm-by-30cm (12in-by-12in) Ethafoam blocks were specially designed at Sealed Air’s Grand Prairie, Texas facility and were placed on a grid to line the metal basket engineered by NASA to hold the trainer. After the blocks were positioned on the grid, two cranes lowered the trainer’s crew compartment into the basket and held it while the Sealed Air team spent four hours positioning the Instapak GFlex foam-in-place solution on the sides and back of the trainer. Instapak foam-in-place solutions were then used to fill any remaining voids and to protect the nose of the compartment.

The trainer arrived in Seattle on June 30. All the packaging materials were returned to the Texas plant for recycling.