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駕駛全球數一數二的巨型車是甚么感覺

Driving one of the world's largest vehicles
駕駛全球數一數二的巨型車是甚么感覺

Within the next two years, Nasa plans to blast the first of its Space Launch System (SLS) rockets on a 384,400 km (238,855 mile) uncrewed voyage around the Moon. With plans for lunar space stations, Moon bases and Mars missions, the future of America’s state-funded astronaut programme depends on its success.

美國太空總署(Nasa)計劃在兩年內發射首個SLS火箭(即太空發射系統,是從航天飛機演變而來的超重型運載火箭),飛行384400公里(238855英里)達到月球后繞月飛行,無人駕駛。這枚SLS火箭肩負著月球空間站、月球基地和與火星相關的多項任務,美國國家宇航員項目進展如何就靠它了。

Although the SLS is brand new, the multi-billion-dollar 98m-tall (322 ft) launcher will begin its journey at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a vehicle that is more than 50 years old. And, for the team charged with conveying the rocket the seven kilometres (4.3 miles) to the launchpad, the pressure is on.

SLS火箭耗資幾十億美元,高度達98米(322英尺),計劃于美國佛羅里達州肯尼迪航天中心發射。火箭雖是剛剛問世,但運送火箭到發射臺的運輸車已經有50多年了。這段7公里(4.3英里)的路程對負責運輸任務的團隊而言,壓力不小。

“There’s a great sense of pride carrying America’s space programme on your back,” says Bob Myers, one of the elite team of drivers for Nasa’s pair of giant crawler-transporters – among the largest land vehicles ever built. “We have one rocket, we have one shot and we don’t want to mess that shot up.”

美國太空總署共有兩臺履帶式運輸車,體型之大在全世界的陸上車輛中都首屈一指。 駕駛員們都是精英,邁爾斯(Bob Myers)就是其中一位,他說:“能參與美國航天工程事業,是莫大的榮耀。火箭只有一個,發射機會也只有一次,當然不想搞砸。”

The four-tracked crawlers were built in 1965 to carry the Saturn 5 rocket that took astronauts to the Moon. They were adapted in the 70s for the Space Shuttle. Now, one of these has been refurbished and strengthened to convey the SLS. Despite some modernisation, the fundamental design of the 40-metre-long (131 feet), 35 metre-wide (114 feet), 2,700 tonne (six million pound) giant tracked vehicle remains the same.

這種運輸車有四組履帶,于1965年制造,當時是為了運輸實施宇航員登月計劃的“土星5號” (Saturn V)運載火箭;曾在1970年代進行改造,用于運輸航天飛機,如今又對其中一輛進行翻新升級,用來運輸SLS火箭。車體長40米(131英尺),寬35米(114英尺),重2700噸(600萬磅),雖然經過現代化改造,但主體設計結構沒變。

“We brag sometimes that the crawlers were made with a slide rule and not a computer,” says Myers, who has been driving the crawler-transporters for more than 35 years. “They were built better – overbuilt – than many vehicles today and as a result they’re very reliable.”

邁爾斯駕駛這種運輸車已經超過35年,他說:“我們有時會吹噓說,這兩輛車可不是電腦設計的,而是用計算尺手工測繪的,比現在很多車都造得好,甚至好得夸張,因此非常可靠。”

Their vital statistics are certainly impressive. The crawlers are powered by two diesel engines which drive generators supplying electricity to 16 traction motors. The tracks in each corner are made up of twin treads with 57 shoes, and a system of sensors and jacks keeps the upper platform – and hence the rocket – level during the journey along the crushed rock roadway and up the ramp to the launch pad. The route from the vehicle assembly building also includes corners, which means the tracks need to pivot.

紐約時報中英文網 http://www.uydujn.live/

運輸車各項重要參數都很突出。兩臺柴油發動機的供電量能滿足16臺牽引電機,車體四角各有一組履帶,每組都有兩個履帶鏈共57個履帶板,有傳感器和起重裝置確保所承托的臺面在火箭送往發射臺的石子路上,以及從舷梯運上發射臺的過程中保持水平——從而保持火箭平穩。從運輸車的組裝車間到發射基地也有拐角,所以履帶得能轉彎。

“We have a team of contractors who prepare the crawler-way every time we’re ready to roll,” says Crawler project manager, John Giles. “As the crawler moves along, it crushes the rock - which flies around as it’s pulverised.”

賈爾斯(John Giles)是履帶運輸車負責人,他說:“每次作業我們都會請一組工人為它開道,運輸車開過會把石頭碾碎,四處飛濺。”

The machines are controlled from cabs jutting out at the front and back. When Myers first took the controls in 1982 to carry a Space Shuttle to the launch pad, he admits it was a nerve-wracking experience. “I was pretty nervous, when you’re carrying a rocket there’s an obvious sense of power,” he says. “It’s not like driving a Volkswagen.”

車體前后各有一個突出來的駕駛艙,邁爾斯承認, 1982年他第一次駕駛運輸車把航天飛機送去發射臺時,可費了不少勁。“我特別緊張,載著個火箭明顯有種威嚴感,跟開輛大眾可不一樣。”

“It’s scary at first and if anything goes wrong, it not something we’d want to talk about for a very long time,” Giles adds. “It takes time to get used to the extra pressure and stress.”

賈爾斯也說:“一開始很害怕,一旦出錯,可就是長久諱莫如深的大錯,得花點時間來適應這種巨大的壓力。”

Although the driver is supported by a team of observers with radios walking alongside to monitor the crawler’s progress, there are in fact parallels with driving a car. The driver has a tiny six-inch (15cm) diameter steering wheel, speed dial and a brake pedal. All commands from the relatively simple controls are fed into the newly-upgraded computer system to ensure the smooth operation of the hydraulic pumps that activate the 1960s mechanical components.

運輸火箭途中,會有一隊配備電臺的觀察員跟在旁邊監測運輸車的情況。除此之外,駕駛運輸車跟一般開車也差不多。方向盤很袖珍,直徑只有6英尺(15厘米),也有車速表和剎車。這輛1960年代建造的運輸車剛剛升級了電腦系統,向它下達的指令相對簡單,要保證液壓泵能順暢驅動車輛。

“It’s fairly simplistic but it has everything you need,” says Myers. “There are a lot of curves and places to slow down [on the journey] but it’s a matter of experience and use of your observers that help you operate the vehicle.”

邁爾斯說:“駕駛室非常精簡,但該有的都有。(運輸途中)有許多彎道和需要減速的位置,要靠經驗以及觀察員的幫助來駕駛。”

Moving a giant rocket isn’t something you can get done before lunch. It takes at least seven hours to complete the journey to the launch pad. The drivers swap every couple of hours along the way but the crawler keeps on going.

運輸大型火箭可不是一時半會兒就能完成,運到發射臺至少需要7個小時,駕駛員過幾小時會輪換一下,但運輸車一直在走。

“We don’t stop until we’re on top of the pad and have the launcher sat down,” Myers says. “We don’t want to run into weather and that’s why we try to get the operation done as quickly and safely as possible.”

“我們會一鼓作氣將火箭運上發射臺并安裝妥當,力爭又快又好地完成任務,免得夜長夢多。”邁爾斯說。

That a machine so vast can move at less than a mile an hour (1.6km/h) is one of the greatest achievements of the original engineers. “It’s not about how fast it can go – it’s about how slow it can go,” says Myers. “It has the capability for positioning and docking its platform on the launch pad to within half an inch and on command it can move an eighth of an inch.”

運輸車如此巨大但行進速度可以低于每小時1英里(1.6公里/時),也是原設計者們一個厲害之處。邁爾斯說:“不在于能多快,而在于能多慢。運輸車還能將承托的臺面放到發射臺上,在不到半英尺的地方進行對接,如有需要還可以僅僅移動八分之一英尺的距離。”

Try doing that in your Volkswagen.

開著你的大眾汽車試一試。

So, do they ever mess it up? “No, we don’t mess up,” says Myers emphatically. “We put a lot of controls in place to prevent that, with drivers and back-up drivers, observers and back-up observers – we do everything we can to make sure the rocket gets safely to the pad.”

有沒有搞砸過呢?“沒有,我們不會搞砸,”邁爾斯肯定地說:“我們有很多措施來確保萬無一失,包括關于駕駛員和后備駕駛員的,跟車觀察員和后備觀察員的,竭盡所能確保火箭安全抵達發射臺。”

With 50 years and some 3,000 km (2,000 miles) on the clock, Nasa expects the crawlers to be in operation for at least another three decades. With the latest refurbishment complete, testing is well underway for the first SLS mission. And, just to be certain they’ve got their calculations right, before the strengthened crawler is used to carry the new rocket, it will be tried out with an equivalent weight in concrete beams.

運輸車已經服役了50年,公里數3000左右(2000英里),美國太空總署希望至少能再用30年。運輸車剛剛翻新完,馬上要測試運輸首個SLS火箭。為確保計算準確,在新版運輸車實際運送新火箭之前會搭載等重的水泥柱進行測試。

All being well, the crawler will once again be doing the job it was originally designed for: moving rockets that take people to the Moon.

如果一切順利,運輸車又可以重操舊業,實現設計初衷——運輸載人登月火箭。

“It’ll be a great day,” says Myers. “It can’t come soon enough.”

邁爾斯說:“運輸SLS火箭可是個大日子,希望那天能盡早到來。”

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