Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ship that destroyed Ky. bridge carries piece of NASA rocket

LOUISVILLE, KY. — The hulking cargo ship that tore through a western Kentucky bridge last month is carrying millions of dollars of rocket components that will be used to blast satellites into space for NASA and Department of Defense missions.

The Coast Guard on Monday allowed the Delta Mariner to move away from the damaged bridge so that debris, including twisted steel and asphalt, could be cleared from the boat’s bow. The five-story tall ship struck the bridge on the Tennessee River on Jan. 26, tearing away a span and halting traffic on the western entrance to the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

The boat is carrying an Atlas V rocket and a Centaur upper stage component that belong to a rocket system that typically costs hundreds of millions of dollars to launch. The rocket parts had been sitting stranded on the ship for about 10 days until the Delta Mariner was moved on Monday.

The Delta Mariner was headed to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., with the rocket parts when it hit the 90-year-old bridge.

The company that built the rocket parts, United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, has declined to give the value of the components on board the boat. The company has said the cargo was not damaged in the bridge collision and it will remain on the ship so it can eventually be taken to the Florida coast.

The upper stage that’s on the boat is an essential component of the Atlas V rocket system, said Warren Ferster, editor of Space News International, who estimated the cost of building the upper stage component is in the tens of millions of dollars.

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