Scrolling through the June 8 issue of Time magazine, a stunning photo caught my eye. A barge from Weeks Marine was transporting the space shuttle Enterprise under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. The shuttle was en route to its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan where it will be on permanent display.
Photographer Michael Nagle of Getty Images snapped the stunning shot before an unfortunate mishap that occurred during the two-day tow when a sudden burst of wind, measured at 35 knots, caused the wingtip of the Enterprise to scrape against protective wood piling bumpers of a railroad bridge in Jamaica Bay.
There was no damage to the bridge and only minor damage to the wing tip, and the space shuttle continued on its way. But the incident must have been embarrassing for the crew. They probably navigate this waterway with ease most days with much more mundane cargo, but this time they were responsible for a retired NASA space shuttle (named after the spaceship Enterprise from Star Trek) as hundreds of spectators, the media and important officials followed the shuttle’s last journey.
An engineer aboard the barge said that there was just a few feet clearance for each wing tip as the barge passed by the bridge. “Mother Nature did not smile on us. Just as the barge entered the railroad bridge, the wind caught it,” the consulting engineer, Dennis Jenkins, said on the Web site collect SPACE.
As would be expected, New York media had some fun with it. The New York Post crowed: “Houston, we have a problem …” Adding that “uh, oh, better call Maaco … the Space Shuttle Enterprise was involved in a fender bender …”
The shuttle – which was never launched into space but used for landing tests in the 1970s – was delivered to the Intrepid’s pier as a flotilla of boats on the Hudson River watched, and spectators on both the New Jersey and New York sides clapped. A floating crane lifted the shuttle from the barge onto the aircraft carrier’s flight deck, where it will be on permanent display beginning July 19. Despite the earlier bridge incident, that must have been a pretty amazing moment for the crew as well.
All this got me wondering: How many other unusual or high-profile jobs have tug and barge companies been involved in? If you have an interesting story to share, drop me a line by responding to this blog.