‘I’m Not Bringing It Back’ — Man Who Moves NASA’s Moon Rocket Frustrated with Delayed Launch

  • NASA, please get the rocket flying. This man deserves a break.

You put in a lot of effort and many hours into an important work project — and then your bosses tell you that the whole thing is canceled. You’ve definitely run into this incredibly frustrating situation at least once, wherever you work.

In your case, though, the wasted effort probably didn’t involve painstakingly moving something worth billions of dollars over eight hours. But it’s a different story for John Giles.

Giles is the man responsible for hauling NASA’s moon rockets from their storage bays to the launch platform. He leads the team operating a ginormous tank-like behemoth called a crawler-transporter — or CT-2.

On August 17, Giles rolled the Artemis 1 rocket from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad. But due to unforeseen software, the launch was pushed back to September 3.

On that date, NASA had better get that rocket in the air. That’s because Giles really doesn’t want to have to take it back to storage.

“I jokingly told them when we went to the pad and dropped it off this time. I went to my management and said, ‘I’m not bringing it back. It stays here,’” Giles told Mashable.

“You gotta launch it because I’m not gonna take it back to the VAB,” he added.

The CT-2 crawler-transporter. Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett

‘You Start to See Things’

Before you start chiding Giles for saying he won’t do his job, you should understand just how stressful his job is. If he messes up, the consequences will be disastrous.

The Artemis 1 rocket isn’t a toy. It costs about $40 billion and is about as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

To transport that humongous rocket, you need a humongous taxi. The CT-2 doesn’t pale in comparison — it measures 131 feet long and 114 feet wide and weighs more than 3,000 tons.

With such a gigantic vehicle and precious cargo, you really can’t try and take shortcuts. Slow and steady wins the race, but there’s a limit to how slow and steady you can get before it starts taking a toll on your mind.

The distance from the VAB to NASA’s launch pad is roughly four miles. That doesn’t sound too bad — until you hear that the CT-2 moves at less than a mile per hour.

A one-way trip from the hangar to the launch system takes Giles eight hours. He does the trip at such a mind-numbingly slow pace that it seems like’s not moving at all.

“You get tired. You start to see things,” said Giles.

Anybody would get bored in that situation, right? But Giles can’t afford to get bored or distracted.

The sheer value and weight of what’s on the CT-2’s back are too much to lose. If he makes one wrong move, the precariously balanced rocket could tip over — and we’re sure nobody wants that.

A Noise to Give You a Heart Attack

Another contributor to Giles’ stress is the age of the CT-2. If you thought NASA only uses the latest, most advanced technology, well… Think again.

NASA built the CT-2 in 1965, making the lumbering vehicle nearly 60 years old. Over its career, it’s hauled rockets and shuttles for the Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, and Space Shuttle programs.

That’s an illustrious history, but the CT-2’s age is starting to show. Giles is primarily worried about the vehicle’s enormous treads.

The treads are already pretty worn out from the CT-2 crawling back and forth for decades. And with every trip, the metal on the treads wears thinner and thinner.

Despite the crawler team replacing the treads the best they can, some of them are constantly at risk. When will they break?

“Every roll stresses me because of the amount of weight and the amount of value of what we’re carrying,” lamented Giles.

He already almost had a heart attack during a launch rehearsal this summer. As the team was lifting the rocket, there was suddenly a loud metallic “CLANG.”

“Like you took a piece of steel and smacked it on another piece of steel,” said Giles.

Upon inspection, engineers found that the noise was caused by normal, harmless heat expansion in the loader components. But that’s still not a sound you want to hear.

Artemis 1’s new launch date is set for tomorrow, September 3. We hope the rocket takes off successfully this time, so that nobody at NASA has to face the fury of an irate and tired crawler operator.