When NASA's Ares I-X flight-test rocket hurtles into space on Aug. 30, thrusters and rocket launchers will get all the credit. But photos of the preparations show that material handling equipment is also playing a critical role in getting the project off the ground.
Thousands of parts and components are now being staged near the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and work has begun in the Vehicle Assembly Building, where overhead cranes are helping engineers stack the major pieces of the rocket. Photos of one large section arriving in a heavy-lift aircraft show forklifts on the runway, and reach trucks and scissor lifts can be seen in the background while technicians work on the massive space ship. (To see a slide show, go to www.nasa.gov and search for "Ares I-X photos." But be forewarned: The mesmerizing multimedia section of NASA's Web site will suck you in like a black hole, causing you to lose all track of time.)
One of the material handling companies helping to support the next generation of space exploration is Herkules Equipment Corp. The Walled Lake, Mich.-based manufacturer customized a three-lift system that's worthy of the company's name. The pneumatic lifts work independently to raise 2,400-pound parachutes to the top section of the booster rocket. The parachutes deploy during the first-stage separation shortly after lift-off, allowing the booster section to float back to earth. According to Herkules, the lifts were specially designed to comply with NASA's unique and strict requirements for raised height, travel, footprint, portability, reliability, and safety.