From the greatest scientific achievements in history to hardcore grafters and the most complex sea, land and air machines ever conceived, the world’s biggest machines are a sight to behold. When it comes to the largest machine ever made, there is only one, and it is eye-watering in cost, size and importance.
The history of machines – using power to apply forces to perform an action – dates back to prehistory. The earliest machines, the hand axe, the ramp, the wheel, levers, cranes and screws, were invented thousands of years ago and form the basis of all of today’s modern feats of engineering.
Later, power sources such as waterwheels, windmills and latterly engines and other power plants replaced human and animal power. Today, many of the world’s biggest machines, including the heaviest machine in the world, are controlled by extremely sophisticated computers.
The largest machines are hard to compare since they dramatically differ in size, shape and function. In this article, we’ve compiled a list of massive machines of such staggering proportions they have to be seen to be believed.
Next Stop, Space
The most expensive single item ever built, the International Space Station is one of the biggest machines in the world. It’s a joint effort between the Americans, Russians, Europeans, Japanese and Canadians and is rumoured to have cost somewhere north of $150 billion. It orbits the Earth every 93 minutes at a speed of 27,600 km/h and weighs almost 450 tons. It is 73 metres long and 109 metres wide.
The ISS was launched in 1998 and is predominantly a research laboratory conducting experiments in scientific fields such as astrobiology, physics, meteorology and astronomy.
Up, Up & Away…
Built in the 1930s by the Zeppelin Company, the LZ-129 and LZ-130 were two of the world’s biggest machines. They remain to this day the largest lighter-than-air objects ever to fly. The airships were symbols of German strength and technology.
The LZ-129 ‘Hindenburg’ was 245 metres long, 41 metres in diameter and held almost 200,000 cubic metres of hydrogen. It made 63 commercial flights in total, mostly between Germany and the USA and South America, but its last flight ended in disaster. On May 6 1937 after attempting to land at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, the airship caught fire and burned completely in under forty seconds. Of the 97 people on board, 36 died. Even today no-one is sure how the fire started.
When is a Ship not a Ship?
When it is a floating liquefied natural gas platform. Called the Prelude, it is owned by Shell and was built in shipyards in South Korea, Dubai and elsewhere around the world.
As well as one of the world’s biggest machines, it is the largest offshore facility ever built. It is 488 metres long, 74 metres wide and weighs around 300,000 tons. Fully laden, Prelude displaces 600,000 tons, more than five times that of the world’s largest aircraft carrier. It cost about $12 billion and operates 475 km northeast of the Western Australia coast.
Possibly the world’s slowest machine is used to transport the world’s fastest machine. NASA’s Missile Crawler Transporter Facilities are tracked vehicles used to ferry rockets and spacecraft from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the famous Launch Complex 39 at the John F. Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
Built in 1965, they are one of the largest self-powered land vehicles in the world. They weigh 2,721 tons and are forty metres long and thirty-five metres wide. Loaded, they travel at 1 km/h and each one has travelled around 6,000 kilometres.
The Largest Machine in the World
This behemoth doesn’t have wheels, it can’t fly or float and it doesn’t excavate thousands of tons of earth and rock. Not only is it the biggest machine ever built, it is the heaviest machine in the world as well as the most complex by design.
Straddling the French – Swiss border near Switzerland’s capital of Geneva is the Large Hadron Collider. It sits between 50 and 175 metres below the surface and has a circumference of a staggering 27 km.
It took ten years to build between 1998 and 2008 and was created in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists, engineers and technicians, more than 100 nations and hundreds of world-class laboratories and universities all over the world. It cost somewhere in the region of £3 billion.
Ironically, the world’s largest machine was built to study the smallest particles in our universe as well as theories surrounding quantum and high-energy particle physics, cosmology and general relativity.