Another space first: The company that launches Atlas and Delta rockets for the first time delivered a combined shipment of stages and boosters for both vehicles this week.
The United Launch Alliance Delta Mariner sailed into port with the Atlas V vehicle that will launch NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory in November and a Delta IV rocket that will launch an Air Force communications satellite in December.
Atlas V rockets previously were transported aboard cargo aircraft. United Launch Alliance consolidated Atlas and Delta manufacturing at a plant in Decatur, Ala., in 2009. This week marked the first time the Delta Mariner was used to deliver both Delta and Atlas rockets. Th simultaneous delivery saved $800,000, a company official said in a news release.
The 312-foot Mariner originally was built to transport Delta IV hardware from to Cape Canaveral from the Alabama factory. The vessel can travel on both rivers and open seas. The trip from the plant to the launch site is more than 2,100 miles and takes eight to 10 days.