Kennedy Space Center is not only home to one of the largest buildings in the world—the massive Vehicle Assembly Building—it also hosts a number of one-of-a-kind facilities. The more than 30-mile-long campus has witnessed every launch from the Space Shuttle Launch Pad, as well as many homecomings at the Shuttle Landing Facility. Just as important, the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) has seen each element of the International Space Station (ISS) that passes through Kennedy before it goes into orbit.
The SSPF is where ISS components are checked, tested, and adjusted before being packed into the Space Shuttle for transport. In an environment like the SSPF—spanning 457,000 square feet of processing areas, operational control rooms, laboratories, logistics areas, and office space—large workstands and equipment used to support the processing of ISS components need to be moved around the facility. One of the devices employed for this task is an air pallet. An air pallet moves on cushions of air instead of wheels. Compressed air inflates the cushions underneath the pallet and is then expelled through exhaust holes. This forms a thin film of air between the cushions and the floor, lifting the platform off the floor and making it easy to move the heavy workstands, equipment, and ISS components.
Concerned with the safety of the connections on the pressurized air hoses used for the air pallets, engineers at Kennedy modified an existing commercial cam and groove fitting to control the air supply hose in the event of an accidental release of a pressurized hose. This modification prevented the hose from detaching and, propelled by compressed air, striking workers or equipment.
“At the time, these were not available on commercial coupling halves, so NASA made a modification and then put them into use. If a worker were to accidentally try to remove a pressurized hose from the pallet, it no longer rapidly separated, and it safely relieved the pressure,” says Paul Schwindt, an engineer at Kennedy who together with Alan Littlefield, also an engineer at Kennedy, designed the modification.
Years after NASA modified the coupling halves, an engineer at an Enid, Oklahoma-based business, PT Coupling Company, was looking for a solution for one of the company’s customers working in Alaska’s North Slope. The customer had some incidents on a pipeline where fittings under pressure were disconnected and resulted in injuries to the workers.
To address the problem, the company developed some prototypes, but nothing worked well, says Kyle Eckhardt, the engineer at PT Coupling. “I was trying to come up with a solution when I came across the NASA fitting description while doing some research online. It was simple, practical, and it really worked,” he says.