After an unexpected winter hibernation, this week the Wankel T. rex - one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimens on the planet - will begin a journey across the country to its new home at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
The T. rex is intended to be the centerpiece of the museum's new $35 million National Fossil Hall, which will open in 2019. But transporting the priceless skeleton across the country is a feat many months in the making.
This week, the Wankel T. rex will be packed bone-by-bone into 16 specialized shipping containers and sent across the country via FedEx.
The 65 million-year-old skeleton will be loaded into a customized trailer, where FedEx Custom Critical can manage every aspect of the shipment in real time as it travels 2,000 miles across America.
"It's truly one of a kind, we are very confident that we're the right company to transport something like this," FedEx Custom Critical's Ryan Henary told Nature World News.
Henary said FexEx's SenseAware technology can track every movement of the custom truck while ensuring the cargo remains at room temperature, and special light sensors on the freight containers will alert officials if any seals are broken or cracked before their intended destination. The system can also monitor barometric pressure and relative humidity.
The cargo will be transported by a husband-and-wife driving team scheduled to depart the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont. on Friday afternoon. The tractor-trailer will be followed by a FedEx "chase vehicle" that will assist the driving team with any potential issues that arise during transport. The cargo is expected to arrive in Washington on Sunday and will be held in a secure lot until April 15, when the National Museum of Natural History will publicly receive the shipment.
The T. rex was originally scheduled to arrive at the museum in October 2013, but the 16-day shutdown of the US federal government stalled the transportation process, which required coordination of a number of federal entities, including the National Parks Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the skeleton.
By the time the government was functioning again, wintery weather posed too much of a risk and the skeleton's transportation was postponed until spring.
"We'd prefer not to move him out of Bozeman in the snow," Kirk Johnson, the director of the Museum of Natural History, said at the time. "It's a complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, and there aren't that many of those around. You don't want to ding him up."
Henary said that FedEx Custom Critical has moved T. rex bones before, but never a nearly complete skeleton.
The dinosaur will be packed by museum and federal officials into crates fitted with foam bracing material. Once the bones are secured in the crates - which weigh between 150-1,300 pounds - the crates themselves will be secured with padding and blankets, Henary said, adding that the shipment will be under 24/7 surveillance.
Before it is put on display, the National Museum of Natural History will digitally scan every bone of the dinosaur to produce a virtual record of the T. rex. Once fully digitized, the data can be used to print replicas - from full-size to desktop - of the dinosaur.
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