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NASA to launch zero-gravity railroad in April


Although there aren't any shippers there — at least as far as anyone knows — National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans next month to begin building the first railroad in space.
When Space Shuttle Atlantis takes off in April, it'll carry a 1,950-pound part flat car, part locomotive Mobile Transporter and an initial 43-foot track section to the 16-nation International Space Station — the beginning of the first zero-gravity rail line.
The line would encircle the station's structural backbone, enabling a robotic arm to carry and install future truss segments and solar arrays along the tracks.
NASA plans next month to launch the aluminum Mobile Transporter, which would inch up and down the 43-foot track section after spacewalkers loosen launch restraints, and attach electrical and computer-cable reels.
Moving at a top speed of 300 feet per hour, the three-foot high, nine-foot long and eight-foot wide machine will be driven by dual electric motors that generate only a hundreth of one horsepower but still enable the transporter to move 23 tons of cargo.
The zero-gravity machine uses three wheel sets: one to propel it and two to ensure the transporter doesn't float loose.
Although the transporter will act as NASA's freight train, the agency plans by year-end to add to the line two special hand cars to transport space-walking astronauts. Called Crew and Equipment Translation Aid, the cars would enable astronauts to move themselves and gear by hand from place to place.
NASA plans to add eight more track sections to the line over the next two years, completing more than 130 feet of track this year and more than 360 feet by project's end.

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More News from 3/21/2002