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Into It: Crawlers


Since the Apollo missions of the sixties, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida has been home to an odd couple: a pair of crawler-transporters. Weighing in at six million pounds, their gargantuan metal slab is reminiscent of an oil rig carted around atop four military tanks.

Every space voyage begins its journey on the back of a crawler. From the towering Saturn V rockets to the line of relatively compact shuttles that followed, the odd ritual looks like this:

Lumbering along the crawlerway, the shuttle’s trek through the three miles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad is paced at one mile per hour. Seven trained technicians take shifts driving the crawler as it guzzles a gallon of gas every forty feet, the rattling muffler underneath them the size of a compact car. In front of them stretches a path eight-lanes wide, topped with a scattering of resilient Tennessee river rocks. Patiently, the stark white rocket moves through grasslands toward the Atlantic.

In the summer of 2011, the final three-hour shuttle delivery, Atlantis, was completed. But with the recent funding cuts to the Constellation Program, new shuttles aren’t on the horizon. The crawlers are left to wait, to peer down their specially fortified roadway, a settled strip they’ve dutifully traced for over forty years.

Music: “Aging Faces/Losing Places” and “Gang Bang Suicide” by Broken Social Scene from Spirit If… (2007).