National Train Day is coming up this weekend.
And while the railroad isn’t necessarily the first mode of transportation we think of in this time, it’s still extremely useful – and sometimes surprising.
For example: NASA has its own railroad.
It’s not very well known, so maybe it… covers its tracks?
This makes sense if you think about everything that goes into a space launch.
Sending a rocket into outer space requires a lot of stuff, like those huge booster segments.
And they need fuel and other materials to get them where they need to go.
Some of that stuff is coming from elsewhere, and so NASA needs a way to get the important space stuff to the launchpad.
There are 38 miles of track in this rail line.
Much of it is on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center and was built for NASA to use.
In the 1960s, the Florida East Coast Railway built 7 1/2 miles of track from its mainline in Florida to the space center.
They also bought locomotives, on which they painted the NASA logo.
Those would pull custom-designed cars that carried space shuttle parts from an assembly plant in Utah all the way to Florida.
They would put boxcars in between the cars with the rocket boosters for safety reasons, and the trains typically only moved about 25 miles per hour.
After launch, NASA staff would recover the booster parts from the ocean, break them back down into individual pieces and put them back to Utah on the railroad.
While these are primarily freight trains, staff would ride along to make sure everything was in good working order.
And Apollo astronauts took the NASA Railroad to and from the so-called “sandpile,” where they trained for how to move around on the moon.
In the mid-2010s, the NASA Railroad essentially shut down following the end of the space shuttle program.
But NASA is currently working to return astronauts to the moon in the near future.
And though some pieces of the rocket are set to be brought in by barge, some equipment is coming through by rail.
It’s gonna be quite a ride.
Today in 1806, the birthday of Senator James Shields.
He was born in Ireland and emigrated to Illinois, where he almost fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln and then got elected Senator in the 1840s.
Later, Shields moved to Minnesota, where he returned to the US Senate.
And toward the end of his life, when he had settled in Missouri, he went back to the Senate one more time, for a record third state.
Critical to the Countdown: The NASA Railroad (Southeastern Railway Museum)
Senator for Three States (US Senate)
Screenshot from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center via YouTube