Channel 19

Todd Dills

Custom rig as educational shuttle — a Mack contribution to the space program

| June 08, 2011

It’s not as big as its sister ships. Nor has it ever gone into orbit. But for more than two decades, the Shuttle Blake has served a very important mission — educating students about space exploration.  Mack Trucks has been part of the story all along.

In the early 1980s Bob Boehmer, a teacher at Schnecksville Elementary school just outside of Allentown, Pa., came to Mack with an old military transport bus. Boehmer’s vision was to convert the bus into a mobile classroom for space-related education throughout the Parkland School District. He had secured donations of equipment and computers — and the bus, which he asked Mack to paint.  Mack employees — and retirees — decided not just to paint the bus, but turn it into a drivable model of the space shuttle itself. They spent nights, weekends and holidays, in all more than 35,000 hours of their own time, designing and building what NASA ultimately commissioned as the Space Shuttle Blake. Key innovations incorporated include hydraulically controlled wings and tail (wings fold up, tail folds down) to make the vehicle drivable on public roads, a hydraulic ramp for handicapped access, a removable fuel tank for indoor safety and a remote electrical supply for use outdoors.

The Blake has since provided hands-on learning about space exploration and technology to more than 60,000 children throughout the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania.

Recently, NASA invited the Blake to the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of shuttle Endeavour as it embarked on its final flight and the next-to-last shuttle mission. With the Blake unable to make the trip from Pennsylvania to Florida on its own, Boehmer again turned to Mack. The company had delivered the Blake to its official NASA commissioning ceremony in Washington, D.C. in 1995.  Last year, when the Blake was invited back to our nation’s capital to participate in the 2010 National Memorial Day Parade, a Mack Pinnacle model truck, currently serving as the centerpiece of the American Trucking Associations’ Share the Road highway safety program, did the honors, operated by some of the highly skilled professional truck drivers who are at the heart of the program. Mack and the ATA again teamed up for the delivery to KSC.    

“Tying in the Mack-sponsored Share the Road program meant the Blake was in very good hands for these journeys,” said Mack spokesman John Walsh. “Share the Road uses professional truck drivers, all with millions of miles of accident-free driving, to teach folks how to safely drive around large trucks. Education is also at the heart of the Blake’s mission. Both efforts carry a lot of Mack Bulldog spirit wherever they go.”

“Mack employees built the Space Shuttle Blake, a Mack truck brought it to Washington more than 15 years ago, and last year, it was again a Mack, operated by Share the Road professional truck drivers, that delivered the Blake back to our nation’s capital,” said Boehmer, who continues to teach at Schnecksville Elementary. “It just had to be Mack and Share the Road again this time around for the Blake’s trip to the Kennedy Space Center, where all shuttles have started their journeys.”

If you missed my post from yesterday, read about another truck maker’s long contribution to the shuttle program and American Trucker’s upcoming final first-season episode featuring specially commissioned shuttle Peterbilts in the 1960s.