Mack Trucks delivered a special educational vehicle, the Shuttle Blake, to Kennedy Space Center for the final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Mack employees built the simulated Space Shuttle Blake from an old military bus. They pose in 1995.
Mack employees built the simulated Space Shuttle Blake from an old military bus. They pose in 1995.

Blake is not as big as its sister ships, nor has it ever gone into orbit. But for more than two decades, Blake has served a very important mission: educating students about space exploration. Mack has been part of the story all along.

In the early 1980s, Bob Boehmer, a teacher at Schnecksville Elementary school near 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 decided not just to paint the bus, but turn it into a drivable model of the space shuttle itself. They spent more than 35,000 hours of their own time designing and building what NASA ultimately commissioned as the Space Shuttle Blake.

Key features include:

* Hydraulically foldable wings and tail to make the vehicle drivable on public roads.

* Hydraulically controlled ramp for handicapped access.

* Removable fuel tank for safety indoors.

* Remote electrical supply for use outdoors.

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.

The vehicle's name comes from a piece of nautical history. A 5th grader at Schnecksville Elementary learned that during the age of ocean exploration in the 1700s, a sailing ship called 'Challenger' was destroyed, and its mission continued by another ship named 'Blake'.

The Space Shuttle Challenger and its crew, which included teacher Christa McAuliffe, were lost in 1986. Blake carries on the mission of space science-related education inspired by Mrs. McAuliffe and her crewmates.

Recently, NASA invited the Blake to the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of Space 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 tractor, currently serving as the centerpiece of the American Trucking Associations' Share the Road highway safety program did the hauling honors. For the space center mission, Mack and the ATA again teamed up to provide transportation.

"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. "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," said Bob Boehmer, who still teaches 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."