What weighs 2.7 million kg but can in some circumstances weigh up to 8.1 million kg, is powered by a pair of V16 diesel engines with a combined output of 5966kW giving it a top speed of 1.6km/h while using a gobsmacking 29,600L of diesel per 100km?
It’s the NASA Crawler-Transporter, the largest land vehicle in the world.
The crawler is a remarkable feat of engineering, designed with a singularity of purpose – to transport NASA rockets and space shuttles from their production facility to the launch pad.
The crawler was designed and built in the 1960s by the quaintly named Marion Power Shovel Company of Ohio. It cost $US14 million ($AUD19 million) when new and pressed into service in 1965. That seems cheap, even by today’s adjusted-for-inflation $US122,000,000 ($AUD$166 million), according to the US Treasury.
The Marion Power Shovel Company built two of the gargantuan crawlers, which were used to transport the mobile launching pad for Saturn IB, Saturn V rockets from NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to Launch Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The journey covers a distance of either 5.5km or 6.8km, depending on whether Launch Complex 39A or 39B is being used and is taken on its own dedicated road, designed and built to accept the crawler’s dimensions and weight. Each one-way trip takes a minimum of nine hours, according to NASA.
Measuring in at 40m long and 35m wide, it needs a team of 30 engineers, technicians and drivers to complete the around five-hour journey. The crew sits in a central internal control room while drivers sit in two control cabs, located at either end of the crawler.
The crawler’s height is adjustable and can range from 6.1m to 7.9m and to ensure its precious load stays even at all times, each side can be lowered or raised independently of the other.
There’s also a laser guidance and levelling system working away to keep the mobile launch platform on an even keel to within 0.16 degrees at the top of the 111-metre Saturn V rocket, crucial when navigating the final 5.0-degree incline that leads up to the Launch Complex. Impressive.
The road itself, dubbed Crawlerway, consists of two 12-metre wide lanes separated by a 15-metre median strip, for a total width of 39 metres.
The surface is made up of a 10cm thick layer of Tennessee river rock sitting above 1.2 metres of graded and crushed stone, itself resting on a further two layers of fill. Tennessee river rock was chosen for a number of reasons, most of all for its low resistance and friction, thus reducing the possibility of sparks, a not insignificant factor when hauling what was essentially an 111-metre tall tube of rocket fuel.
Both crawlers – officially dubbed Crawler-Transporter 1 and Crawler-Transporter 2 but known within NASA as Hans and Franz – remain in active service today, although the last time either Hans or Franz hauled a spaceship to the Kennedy Space Centre launch complex in anger was in July, 2011 for the 135th and final Space Shuttle mission. The pair has covered over 5500km of the 6.8km Crawlerway between them.
But, far from sitting idle and enjoying retirement, CT-2 has been on the receiving end of updates, bringing it up to what has been called ‘Super Crawler’ specification. It’s already seen action, completing a wet test run earlier this year, transporting NASA’s Artemis rocket to Launch Complex 39B.
The test came in preparation for the first launch of NASA’s Artemis mission slated for May, 2022. The Artemis program is aiming to return humans to the moon by as early as 2025.
Images courtesy of NASA
Rob Margeit has been an automotive journalist for over 20 years, covering both motorsport and the car industry. Rob joined CarAdvice in 2016 after a long career at Australian Consolidated Press. Rob covers automotive news and car reviews while also writing in-depth feature articles on historically significant cars and auto manufacturers. He also loves discovering obscure models and researching their genesis and history.