By on October 14, 2012

Space Shuttle Endeavour was hitched to a silver Toyota Tundra CrewMax half-ton pickup to cross the 405 Freeway on its two day trip from LAX airport to the California Science Center (CSC).

According to Toyota, the truck was not modified. In a few hours, I will be on my way from Tokyo to Los Angeles. I will meet up with Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer to do a “from the truck bed” review of the Toyota Tundra CrewMax half-ton pickup. Stay tuned.

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49 Comments on “Hitchin’ A Ride...”


  • avatar
    Robstar

    As someone who is NOT a truck/towing guy (and it’s been 20 years since I’ve taken physics), how does a tundra pull something that from (many web search results) weighs 292,000 pounds not fall apart or move it at all? Isn’t this WAY beyond the tow rating of the tundra?

    • 0 avatar
      Micah

      Just because it’s beyond the tow rating doesn’t mean it can’t move it. It just couldn’t do it safely or reliably, or have the ability to go highway speeds, turn, or stop for that matter. I’m sure that the rolling dollies on which the shuttle was mounted were very low-resistance. It’s similar to the strongmen competitions where guys drag trains around with their teeth.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Putting anything on wheels makes it several orders of magnitude easier to move. Just consider how much fun it is to drag a heavy box across a smooth concrete floor versus the ease of moving the same mass around on a wheeled dolly. Heck, as long as the wheels aren’t out of round and the tracks are smooth, I could move a fully loaded coal hopper in a rail yard, although it would quickly come to a halt if someone blocked the wheels with a penny.

    • 0 avatar
      BrianL

      With most trailers, there is weight from the trailer on the truck. There is weight riding on the rear suspension. That isn’t the case here. It is like pulling a wagon. Much easier to pull a wagon than if you had to lift up the front (just off of the ground) and pull it on the back 2 wheels.

      Now, another part that goes into towing is braking. And there is no way that this Tundra was going to be able to slow this down. Well, slow it down yes, but stopping it would be very difficult. The dollies in this have brakes. Like larger trailers have brakes in them to slow it down.

      What really tells you how difficult this was is the size of the pin that is connecting the shuttle to the truck. It isn’t that big.

      This stunt was just pulling a heavy wagon. Something that I bet any 1/2 ton truck on the market could do.

    • 0 avatar
      billfrombuckhead

      A bigger story about trucks is that Chrysler spent their money on building the most advanced full size truck on the planet that beats the Tundra by a huge 5 mpg on the highway and even beats the automatic Tacoma by 1 mpg on the highway. When you have an obsolete product you have to rely on publicity stunts. Maybe Toyota could at least have spent money on better materials so they don’t rust so bad or put on a tailgate that can be used for a load platform if improving their drivetrains up to Detroit 3 standards is too expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      If I recall correctly, ONE HORSEPOWER is the ability to move 33,000 pounds through 1 foot in 1 minute.

      Not sure how to calculate how much power you need to move a Shuttle from standstill (I SHOULD know because I used to spec out heavy trucks and that is pretty basic knowledge but I haven’t done it for years and the mind grows foggy…but I digress) but clearly a modern truck with 250 or 300 HP will have no trouble with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      @Robstar: “As someone who is NOT a truck/towing guy (and it’s been 20 years since I’ve taken physics), how does a tundra pull something that from (many web search results) weighs 292,000 pounds not fall apart or move it at all? Isn’t this WAY beyond the tow rating of the tundra?”

      SLOWLY!

      Watch the video, and keep in mind the following list of differences between towing a space shuttle and towing an RV or a boat:

      1. The towing is happening on level (or nearly level) ground. Going uphill or downhill very much would easily exceed the power/braking capabilities of the truck.

      2. None of the shuttle’s weight is resting on the back bumper of a pickup truck. When towing a regular trailer, 10%-15% of the weight is supposed to rest on the trailer hitch. If they hitched up the shuttle the normal way, around 29,200lbs (14.5 tons) would be resting on the trailer hitch — if the rear axle didn’t break, the front wheels would be in the air.

      3. The “trailer” must have had had brakes. Stopping 290,200lbs with Tundra brakes could happen if it happened as slowly as it starts. But, if anything goes wrong, the shuttle is going to push the truck out of the way, keep going, and drag it by the hitch. When this happens with a conventional trailer, they call it “jackknifing”, because the combination vehicle tries to fold up like a swiss army knife, but without the benefit of the engineering that goes in to making this work on a swiss army knife. The same thing would happen here, except that the truck would just be dragged along like a child’s toy. So the “trailer” must have had brakes, and a guy standing by to apply them at the first sign of trouble.

      4. Speed: they were moving at walking speed, with a crew of engineers standing by to man the brakes, to look for obstacles at every corner, and they probably had a few standing by with laptops to check their calculations as-needed.

      When you tow an RV down the highway, you’re moving at 70mph, can only see out the driver’s window, you’re traveling over unfamiliar terrain, and you 10% of the trailer’s weight on the hitch. If you’re towing a big trailer, you have trailer-brakes — but you might not.

      So, the answer is that the NASA engineers stacked the deck to make this work, probably because it was the simplest legally-available option they had.

      If you tried to tow 292,000lbs with a Tundra down the highway the normal way (without a crew of genuine rocket scientists coming up with a corner-case where this actually works), the best outcome you could hope for would be to break truck’s rear axle while lifting the front in the air. If you pulled the rig that they actually used at 70mph, I imagine that the result you’d see would be roughly analogous to hitching a freshly caught fish to a Radio Flyer full of lead bricks and pushing it down a hill.

  • avatar

    It was a Miracle! no doubt about it eh?

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    It’s a publicity stunt. Toyota took everyone by surprise. You snooze you lose! The dollies that the shuttle is on are self propelled, controlled by remote. The Tundra is there for guidance.

    Ironically, the sheer amount of logistics means that the truck is buried in a crowd. If nobody had focussed on it, it would have been lost in the background.

    • 0 avatar

      Sources?

      • 0 avatar
        Dimwit

        I went to the sarens website. Here’s a photo of the dolly shot. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto/8081429955/in/photostream/

        I can’t see them changing dollies once they went over the 405 but maybe they did. I know that it’s a logistical nightmare for what streets and routes they can use to get to the museum. It’s costing the museum $10 million just to get it from the airport.

    • 0 avatar
      PeteRR

      The dollies are not self-propelled. CalTrans wouldn’t allow the haul company to use the self-propelled units to move the shuttle across the 405 overpass. The combo would have been too heavy, so the dollies were used just for the overpass.

  • avatar

    Does no one remember the Touareg V10 TDI towing the 747 a few years ago?

  • avatar
    AJ

    I liked their videos. Cool to see the Tundra built in the USA, and UAW free!

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    Pretty much turned off by the whole thing. I admit to sour grapes here but when LA and New York get shuttles and Houston doesn’t, I think there are problems with the selection criteria. That makes this publicity fruit from a poisonous tree for me.

    • 0 avatar
      cugrad

      Agreed. If they had to put one in CA, at least they could have put it out at Edwards/Dryden.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      The Space center in Florida gets the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and the Smithsonian Air & Space museum in Virginia gets the Discovery. Happy now?

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      It is a bummer for us here in Texas, but if you visit Space Center they have a lot of non-space stuff going on (cartoon characters) to get folks to visit. They wanted to put it where folks would support it and aparently we don’t. I’ve been twice in my 20 years here. Once when I first got here and once on a company sponsered trip.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    I must tip my hat to Toyota for this great marketing stunt. It is a very original idea.

    All the other OEMs were too busy surfing the Internet blogs, looking for “Social Influencers” to bribe a Lobster dinner to at the next marketing ride, to even contemplate this.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      A great marketing stunt? Absolutely! But also more than that.

      As the owner of a 2011 Tundra 5.7 I chose to buy one because I thought it was better than the F150 and the Silverado I had owned before.

      And my Tundra has not disappointed me or let me down like both my F150 and Silverado did during the first year I owned them, with warranty issues.

      And, yeah, it doesn’t hurt that the Tundra, like many other Toyota products, is made in America by Americans, for Americans.

      So the haters can hate all they want. The smart people will buy what they choose to buy, even if it is a Tundra.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I like the Tundra okay, but IMO it has two big knocks against it.

        1. The payload rating on the Double Cab and CrewMax versions is kind of low. You’re looking at 1300-1450 max payload if your Tundra has a towing package and rear seat. That even lags behind the coil’d Ram and Ford offers almost double that. It’s especially disappointing when you consider that Toyota doesn’t offer a HD version of the Tundra.

        2. The AutoLSD is a nice standard feature but it is still inferior to the lockers and traditional LSDs offered by the competition. Toyota should optionally offer a tougher differential for those that want it (even if only through the TRD catalog)

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        ajla, my Tundra is my very-first-ever foreign-brand pickup truck.

        I started with pickup trucks like the ’59 Apache, the ’60 F100, all hand me downs and all 6-cyl three-on-the-tree.

        I progressed to a IHC 4dr truck bought used from the US Air Force. My very first new half ton pickup truck was a 1988 Silverado with the 350 and THM350, and all the bells and whistles like AC, Automatic, Cruise Control and power everything.

        My second new truck was a 2006 F150 XLT 5.4 but like the Silverado, it was fraught with problems, some of them covered under warranty, many of them paid for out of my own pocket.

        If people wonder why I am so fond of my 2011 Tundra 5.7 it is because it’s the best truck I have ever owned since it has never been back to the dealer for anything, not even warranty issues. I put gas in it and it goes when I need it to go. All I’ve done so far is change the oil and filters myself every 3000 miles.

        I have a DoubleCab Long Bed SR5 2wd and it can do whatever all my other trucks did, except the Tundra does it with more finesse, comfort and style, smoother ride, better handling and braking.

        I’m sure that I could nit-pick it to death but it will still be the best truck I have ever owned in my 66 years of living.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Oh the anecdotal evidence. I drove all 4 of the big pickups prior to saying screw it and buying my used Land Cruiser and a small utility trailer. I felt the F150 was the best driving and most solid of the bunch (and I own a Toyota).

        With respect to the whole “I havent had any issues so it is the best vehicle made arguement” I highly reccommend everyone purchase a 95 Saturn SW1. I beat on that wagon for over 300,000 miles and not only was it still running, everything still worked to include the never recharged AC and the interior was still nice and the paint unfaded. YMMV however.

    • 0 avatar
      spw

      I wouldnt call it marketing stunt – honest truth is that they have been donating to California Science Center for past 20 years, and they have Tundra already on the exhibition there.

      So when CSS needed truck to tow the dolly over the bridge, they called Toyota, because it was their partner for past 20 years. Toyota didnt have to pay anything for the privilege, but they have donated millions in the last 20 years.

      For some politicians to say that it should have been Ford, GM or Chrysler is ridiculous.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    USA, USA?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJZVUnOduH4

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    If the wheels on the dollies are low enough in resistance then it wouldn’t be too difficult to move the weight. When I was 18 I worked for a company called “Kent Tank Lining”, which is no longer around. They put linings in tanker train cars. They pulled them up and down the tracks with pickup trucks on a regular basis with no problems

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Didn’t someone pull a switch locomotive with a Ford Diesel on Top Gear once (US version)?

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Dunno,mkirk. But at the tank lining plant they would move the railroad tanker cars pretty much every day with standard half ton pickup trucks. It’s been 31 years and I can’t remember if they used a strap or a cable, but I remember it being about 20 feet long with a hook on both ends. They would just hook the rail car to the back of the truck and run the truck along the side of the tracks while pulling the rail cars. They would move them about 150 feet or so, to the other side of the yard at a speed of about 5mph. The trucks would pull them along effortlessly. I remember once a guy finished up with one and didn’t want to walk to the other side of the yard to get a truck, his 74 Gran Torino was nearby and he hooked it up to the rail car and moved it with no problem. The first day I started working at the place was when I learned about the impact that rolling resistance has on being able to move objects.

      • 0 avatar
        ezeolla

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkVLsCLTKw8

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    They have a charity competition here in Indy where groups of people pull a large FedEx plane down the runway.

    It’s all about the rolling resistance. A pickup at 1st range converter stall and low range in the t-case makes an astounding amount of rimpull. I assume they had the Tundra ballasted to the max to help prevent wheelspin.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Chevy did this 30 yrs ago with a 4×4 Pickup towing a 747. Not that impressed. 4x4s have low range. Look at the tugs used to tow jets around . They are nothing special.

  • avatar
    86SN2001

    145 tons? That’s not impressive at all.

    I once saw a Ford tow some logs in the woods and tow a trailer around a race track.

    When the Tundra does that, I’ll be impressed.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Toyota has been sponsoring the California Science Center for 20 years now, so hats off to it for getting a deserved honor to do this. Sure, it’s a marketing stunt, but at least they are giving a boost science and discovery….something that doesn’t get a lot of support in American anymore unfortunately.

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      Yeah… The country that leads the world in science and discovery doesn’t support science and discovery..

      • 0 avatar
        Nostrathomas

        The country that used to lead the world in science and discovery is now too busy debating edgy 19th century topics like Evolution.

      • 0 avatar
        rentonben

        I don’t get what a few people’s opinion on a minor part of biology has anything to do with our leadership in most technology and exploration. If you implying that skepticism of evolution is coralated with scientific prowess, then logically perhaps other countries would do better to doubt portions of evolution if they want to compete at our level.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      We just shot a nuclear powered vehicle the size of my Miata to Mars and successfully lowered it to the surface utilizing a rocket powered hovering crane.

      I too lament the loss of our manned space program, but if we have to choose between ferrying Astronauts to the Space Station and floating around in orbit (something John Glenn did in 1962, I’ll take the nuclear powered Martian Miata thank you.

      • 0 avatar
        ktm

        “I’ll take the nuclear powered Martian Miata thank you”

        Thank you. Thank you for a comment that was not political but on topic. More importantly, a big thank you for a comment that had me chuckling for a good 5 minutes.

        ….and I would have to agree with you regarding the state of our exploration program. Big deal about the ISS…..the sheer magnitude of what was accomplished with Curiosity is astounding.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Ehh if you look at the video you can see that the sheer stress on the pin is pretty low.

    It’s also a fairly small pin if you think about the possible loads involved here.

    I’m confident this is a fully stock off the showroom floor Tundra. I’m guessing a lawn mower of medium size could probably do the same thing.

    Great PR, but as for the physics, not even a challenge for any pickup truck.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    I am going to guess that the transmission gears and rear end are all cryo-treated and shot-peened and magna-fluxed and all that good stuff. No way would this be a ‘off the showroom floor’ truck. The backlash and bad publicity which would result if the truck blows out the rear end would be far outweigh any good publicity that would come from a successful pull.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      Icemilk, if the load had been too difficult to pull it would not have done any damage to the truck, the truck would have simply sat there and spun the tires. Try putting your vehicle against a brick wall, or chain it to a large tree, tighten the chain then slowly get into the throttle. Your tires would start spinning, nothing else would happen.
      After I looked at the video it was easy to see how they made the rolling resistance low, looks like there must be 100 tires under the dollies.

  • avatar
    MLS

    Who cares. I live in Boston, but am more interested in the plight of property owners whose mature trees were razed by the hundreds to make way for Endeavor. (The promised replacements, while better than saplings, are just 10-14 feet tall.) Why not detach the wings from the shuttle and reattach them at the museum? It’s not like the thing’s ever going to fly again anyway.

    I’m far from an environmentalist (for one, I refuse to drive four cylinder cars), but the waste involved in this shuttle move is ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Well- it would seem a bit of a let down for the millions of people lining up to watch. A chopped up shuttle is just not quite as photogenic and memorable as an intact shuttle.

      Now they could have raised the shuttle higher up to clear (most) of the trees.

    • 0 avatar
      84Cressida

      Because the originality of the shuttle would be ruined. There were also concerns about people seeing the Shuttle in pieces and using it as a symbol that America’s manned space program was over. I’m far from an enviornment hater, but the “it’s either the trees or the shuttle” decision was the right one.

  • avatar
    GarbageMotorsCo.

    WOuld love to see some of the haters show up at the San Antonio plant in Texas and shoot their mouth off to the folks working the lines building these trucks. I dare ya.

  • avatar
    Mr Nosy

    When or if,I’m ever seeking to move a large spacecraft,a ship,an ICBM,or any kind of very large,metal object,I’m gonna say now that I’m more inclined to purchase a Toyota to accomplish this task.Assuming no Toyotas were used to remove any of the 400 healthy trees quickly dispatched by classifying the space shuttle as a house moving,speeding things up to everyone’s convenience.It is, after all,just a space freighter-chop it up & reassemble it on site.C’mon,you mean we need to keep it space worthy in case of aliens? Its not like its an SR-71, or De Havilland Comet.


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