Partnering with Seattle's Museum of Flight, Sealed Air's protective packaging helps safely transport NASA's Space Shuttle Trainer.
Sealed Air, a global leader in food safety and security, facility hygiene and product protection and perhaps best known for its therapeutic Bubble Wrap cushioning product, has helped play a key role in transporting a piece of space history.
As protective packaging experts, Sealed Air has helped safely transport valuable and sometimes priceless objects, such as the world’s most completed reticulated dinosaur fossil (done in 2008), but now Sealed Air has consulted and assisted on a project that is a “giant leap” beyond a dinosaur fossil—the simulator used by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to train astronauts in the space shuttle program since the 1970s.
Following the end of the space shuttle program in August of 2011, the Seattle Museum of Flight was chosen as the permanent home for the Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT). This meant the wooden simulator weighing a total of nearly 25,000 pounds would require transport from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX to Seattle.
The FFT’s three engine-bell replicas were trucked to Seattle in wooden crates on the same 52-foot long trailer in April of 2012. The safe transport of the 24-foot long crew compartment would, however, prove more complex. The crew compartment, which is the part of the trainer most closely resembling the real shuttle, would have to be transported via air in NASA’s Super Guppy, a plane designed to carry outsized cargo.
Once a transportation method was confirmed, the next step was to determine the best and safest way to protect the valuable crew compartment during transit.
“Our company is known for protecting what’s important, including some of the world’s most valuable artifacts,” says David Hagood, Sealed Air Protective Packaging technical lead on the FFT crew compartment project. “We were excited to use our expertise in packaging design and materials performance to tackle a project like this. It’s a pretty big deal when you think that the trainer was used to train every astronaut in the shuttle program’s history.”
In a two-day period, Sealed Air experts used more than 30 fabricated Ethafoam military grade polyethylene foam blocks and more than 500 pounds of Instapak polyurethane foam to create the proper cushioning design to safely protect the trainer.
The 12-inch by 12-inch military grade Ethafoam blocks were specially designed at Sealed Air’s Grand Prairie, TX 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 the next 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 well-protected trainer arrived safely in Seattle on June 30, 2012 ready for full reassembly and display in the Museum of Flight’s Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Unlike the retired space shuttles themselves, which must be displayed out of reach of the public, museum attendees will be allowed to step inside the trainer to experience the simulated interior of the space shuttle.