In a fusion of steel and stars, Union Pacific Railroad recently found itself on a one-of-a-kind voyage, serving a unique customer. The railroad teamed up with Norfolk Southern and shortline Florida East Coast to safely transport 10 rocket motors from Northrop Grumman Systems in Corinne, Utah, to NASA in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for use in the upcoming Artemis II mission.
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Scheduled for late 2024, the mission represents a historic juncture for the country as astronauts are set to traverse around the Moon for the first time in over 50 years. The boosters are the largest and most powerful ever constructed for spaceflight, generating over 75% of the total thrust at lift-off for NASA’s Space Launch System.
Due to their immense weight and size, the motor segments required transportation by rail across eight states in specialized carriers to the spaceport. Union Pacific collaborated meticulously with Northrop Grumman and partnering railroads to ensure precision and seamless execution. Along with the rocket motors, the journey involved two locomotives, 10 buffer cars, and specialized pathfinding equipment.
“The planning and execution required for this shipment highlights what can be achieved when we work together,” said Alexis Howle, manager-Train Operations. “Union Pacific’s crucial contribution not only brought a monumental voyage to the moon closer to fruition, but also generated revenue, making it a triumph in more ways than one.”
Union Pacific special agents provided security and support throughout the journey. Mechanical Manager David Tuma was also present. His team developed the specialty cars, including a refrigeration unit to maintain optimal temperature for the motor segments.
The collaboration efforts of Operations, Marketing & Sales, and Loup Logistics were crucial for the successful transportation of this shipment. Billy Holcomb, Louie Connaghan, Jason Niemann and Tim Naprstek’s collective efforts exemplify the dedication and precision required for modern-day space mission logistics.
The railroad’s role in this monumental mission underscores its broader commitment to embracing challenges.
“Being part of this historic journey is a testament to Union Pacific's commitment to innovation,” said Nathan Anderson, senior director-Public Affairs. “It’s not just about transportation, it’s about expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and capabilities.”
Through innovative solutions and careful attention to safety and service, Union Pacific successfully played its part in moving humanity one step closer to the stars.