McCollister’s Transportation Supports Orion on Journey to Mars

McCollister’s Transportation Group transported pre-flight Orion to various testing centers around the country and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for assembly. Photo Credit: McCollister’s Transportation Group
McCollister’s Transportation Group transported pre-flight Orion to various testing centers around the country and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for assembly. Photo Credit: McCollister’s Transportation Group

The “Journey to Mars” began when NASA’s Orion capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex (SLC) -37B atop a roaring Delta IV heavy rocket on Dec. 5, 2014. The journey of Orion, however, began much earlier when McCollister’s Transportation Group started moving key portions of the spacecraft for testing in July 2013. McCollister’s played a critical role in transporting the multi-million dollar spacecraft to various testing locations across the country and to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for assembly before flight.

McCollister’s is a family-owned company that started small in 1945 and quickly grew to become a recognized leader in the logistics industry. Celebrating their 70th successful year in the business, McCollister’s has certainly done some very unusual transports, but did they think they’d be transporting a $350-million spacecraft that will one-day pioneer man to Mars? Upon receiving the special contract the company knew the transport was going to take some serious precision, skill, and planning.

McCollister’s was the preferred carrier for the Orion transport, beginning with transporting pieces of the fairing from NASA Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, La., to Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, Calif., to test the explosive bolts in July 2013. McCollister’s was responsible for safely transporting the 16-foot-wide load with additional California Highway Patrol (CHP) escorts for extra security. Four trucks hauled the fairing parts for over 2,200 miles from Louisiana to California. Once the fairings passed the test, they were brought back to MAF and eventually moved to KSC to be assembled for launch. In the first quarter of 2014, McCollister’s continued moving essential parts of the spacecraft, namely the Orion connecting rings, from contractors across the country and delivered the parts to KSC and MAF.

McCollister’s transports the traveling frame for the Orion nose cone to Huntsville, Alabama. Photo Credit: McCollister’s Transportation Group
McCollister’s transports the traveling frame for the Orion nose cone to Huntsville, Ala. Photo Credit: McCollister’s Transportation Group

McCollister’s used a significant amount of pre-planning and heavy equipment to ensure the 100 percent error-free transport of Orion. The trusted transportation company “had to accommodate the sensitivity of next generation technology onboard, and use all of our skills and experience in transporting high-value items to ensure a smooth project. With a diameter of 16.5 feet and a capsule mass of 19,650 pounds, we used our specialized equipment to move the load successfully.”

Photo Credit: McCollister's Transportation Group
Photo Credit: McCollister’s Transportation Group

Soon after delivering the connecting rings, McCollister’s began to move the Orion nose cone and heat shield. The cover was applied and heat tested, then moved to KSC for assembly.

Moving a multi-million NASA project was certainly no easy task, but it was an honorable one. McCollister’s involvement in transporting Orion sections pre-launch allowed them to be part of an exciting piece of history—and it didn’t stop there. The transportation company continued to move parts and pieces after the launch and recovery of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)- 1.

A seven-member team of NASA, Jacobs, and Lockheed Martin personnel traveled with post-flight Orion 2,700 miles from California to Florida. The roughed-up spacecraft arrived back at KSC on Thursday, Dec. 18, and a press conference celebrating the Orion homecoming was held the following day. The $350-million spacecraft proudly stood on display inside NASA’s Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at KSC, showing some wear and tear.

After Orion’s homecoming, engineers removed the back shell of the spacecraft to inspect the propulsion system, fluid lines, avionics boxes, and cabling. Samples were taken from the heat shield and sent to a laboratory. Then the whole heat shield was removed from the spacecraft for further examination.

McCollister’s explains their Aerospace Process to a group of students at the 31st Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace
McCollister’s explains their Aerospace Process to a group of students at the 31st Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace

Orion heat shield arrived at MSFC on March 9, 2015, a little over three months after its first unmanned test flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla. In a recent AmericaSpace article about Orion’s heat shield inspections, the author described that “around 180 small squares of Avcoat, the outermost coating of the heat shield- which protected the conical Crew Module from re-entry temperatures as high as 2,200 degrees Celsius (4,000 degrees Fahrenheit), about 80 percent as hot as would be experienced during a return from lunar distance- will be removed from Orion’s Crew Module for inspection and detailed analysis.” The Orion spacecraft will then be delivered to NASA Langley for water impact testing and for future use on the Ascent Abort-2 test of the Launch Abort System (LAS) sometime in 2018.

McCollister’s role in transporting the Orion spacecraft proved the company’s commitment to moving cargo on time, within budget, and with unparalleled talent in logistics. The company coordinated the entire team move process and supplied a turnkey operation for the oversize and over-height transports. McCollister’s told AmericaSpace that this required state permits/surveys, route planning, and normally four escort/flag cars (two in the front and two in the back).

The most significant aspect of McCollister’s involvement in Orion and EFT-1 was the secure and error-free delivery of every piece transported. Many of the transfers included oversize articles that required superior skill and focus to make sure each item arrived without any trouble. McCollister’s expertise in logistics and experience transporting high-value items ensured a smooth project from the start.

Orion was not the only aerospace transport for the growing transportation company. McCollister’s provides business to the aerospace and defense industry on many projects. McCollister’s was involved in nine various launches for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Ball Aerospace, and Orbital ATK in 2014. So far in 2015, four transports have been completed and another four are expected before the year’s end.

Photo Credit: McCollisters Transportation Group
Photo Credit: McCollisters Transportation Group

Recently, McCollister’s was involved in the MUOS–3 launch for the U.S. Navy, and transported the spacecraft and all ground support equipment for the AFSPC-4 launch last summer. The transportation company will be actively transporting for future aerospace missions namely GPSIIF- 10, 11, 12, GOES-R, and MUOS-4.

McCollister’s runs 15 facilities and 1.3 million square feet of warehouse space across the country. The transportation company controls a fleet of over 850 vans and employs 900 individually trained and dedicated staff members.

McCollister’s is certified by the Department of Defense to provide Classified Transport Protective Services to the aerospace and defense industry. The company supplies customers with special equipment and teams of reliable personnel experienced in transporting ground support equipment, rocket motors, and loaded space craft containers. The transportation company offers custom plans and shipment-specific operating procedures unique to every aerospace project—especially multi-million dollar spacecrafts.


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    • “Journey to Mars” is the new title of NASA’s effort to develop “the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010.”

      Ms. Landman’s use of the phrase “Journey to Mars” in the title of her article is perfectly accurate since it reflects NASA’s use of that term. And of course, nobody is actually expecting that a diesel tractor with trailer in tow is going carry Orion all the way to Mars – it is simply a bit of poetic license that is a perfectly acceptable narrative tool.

    • Gary,

      That title is both factually accurate and stylistically just fine. Talia has done great work for and won’t have someone say otherwise.

      A commenter advertising their own site is a big no-no. Criticizing our writer for an article title and then pushing your own post is…well, don’t do it again.

      Why this rule? Just common courtesy. And I practice what I preach. In commenting on other sites, I almost NEVER extoll (advertise to?) others to see what we’ve done at

      Jim Hillhouse

  1. Great article! With all the highly skilled and professional drivers envolved with these moves, would have been nice to see them at least mentioned in the article by name.

  2. Having personal involvement with much of what is noted within this article, find that the author did not review or fact check the information noted within this article. McCollisters did not do the Route Survey’s, permitting or coordination with others associated with the transport of many of the Orion over-dimensional loads. This was done by my company, RSA Network Inc.. This article tends to be an advertisement for McCollister’s and is misleading as to the capabilities of this company.
    Randy Sorenson
    RSA Network Inc.
    South Jordan, Utah

    • Hi Randy,

      Appreciate the comments. The information supplied to produce the story came straight from McCollisters, and was even reviewed by them before publishing. They approached us initially at the recent Space Symposium, so of course we wanted to hear their story. A review of Orion coverage would also show plenty of articles on various vendors who are helping to make America’s return to space a reality.

      With that said, we are contacting McCollister’s again to set the record straight and I will be in touch.

      Mike Killian
      Managing Editor

  3. RSA Network Inc. directly supplied Pilot Cars, Route Development/Surveys, Permitting, coordinated the Scheduling and retained/coordinated Utilities, Law Enforcement and Security for the majority of these loads noted within this article. RSA Network Inc. was not contracted to McCollisters nor did we supply our services to McCollisters.

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