Shuttle Endeavour’s Last Flight (even if it is on top of NASA’s B747)

The recently decommissioned Endeavour is one of three space shuttles transitioning from being an active astronaut-carrier to an awe-inspiring exhibit, this one at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. As you might expect, getting a 122’ x 78’ x 57’ spacecraft to the museum from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) comes with a few challenges. Some of the key ones are highlighted here.

First, they removed a number of toxic materials (rocket fuel, for example), the engines, and hatches that have explosives and also pulled out the toilets and galleys for a separate display.

Then, a “mate-demate device” was needed to load and unload the shuttle on the back of the modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (or SCA) to transport it from Florida to California. Such device exists at KSC; however, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) does not have one because they are not used to handling these types of operations. Therefore, NASA engineers plan on erecting a number of large cranes to take the Endeavour off the B747 once in LA.

The trip from Florida to California was scheduled to begin on Monday, September 17, 2012; however, due to weather, it had to be postponed to Wednesday, September 19. If I heard correctly, the SCA with the shuttle on top can only fly in VMC conditions. The trip is divided into three legs: from Cape Canaveral (XMR) to Ellington Field in Houston (EFD), from Houston to NASA’s Dryden and then from there to LAX with a few flyovers along the way =)

I was not able to see it flyover or arrive at either New Orleans or Houston respectively (both in AOPA’s Central Southwest Region) due to the fact that it was delayed two days and I had to travel early Wednesday morning to New Mexico to meet prior commitments. However, I had a personal reporter – my husband Jared =) – in Houston sending me pictures and updates along the way. I wanted to share those with you here.

Houston is very happy to have Endeavour, even as a visitor for a few hours. NASA plays a big role in Houston, especially in South Houston (namely Clear Lake, Seabrook, etc.), and the City was disappointed to learn a few months back that one of the “flying” shuttles would not retire in Houston at Johnson Space Center (JSC).

The shuttle (escorted by one of NASA’s Houston-based T38s) flew over several parts of Houston, including downtown, Texas Southern University (TSU) and the University of Houston – Main (UH), Hobby Airport (HOU), Clear Lake, etc. Traffic was backed up for a couple of miles on Highway 3 by Ellington Field. Several hundred people went out to EFD to greet the retired shuttle. Here are a few pictures from the shuttle’s low pass and landing at Ellington Field:

The crowd was very excited. It was worth waiting in line after all… what a sight and piece of history!

I also wanted to share with you the picture I liked the most out of those my husband sent me. A little boy dressed as an astronaut posing for a picture in front of the 747 and shuttle. I am glad to see science, space, flying… is still exciting for the new generations to come. We certainly need future pilots… and future astronauts in this case.

The ferry flight is scheduled to continue at sunrise tomorrow, heading to NASA Dryden, then on to Los Angeles Friday. Endeavour is slated to take off from Ellington Field around 7 a.m. The flight plan after that calls for them to fly south, turn east over Johnson Space Center for one last pass, then fly back over downtown before flying over west Houston. It will then make a low flyover just south of the Capitol Building in Austin en route to El Paso. Hope you can catch them during any of those flyovers if you leave in Texas.

On Friday, once on wheels at LAX, the shuttle will travel six miles to the museum. This will require the temporary removal of most power lines and traffic signals, two engineering firms to plan the route and a person to “drive” the four mobile transporters that carry the shuttle. Can’t make it to LA to watch the shuttle taxi from LAX to the museum? Well, you can still plan on attending AOPA’s Parade of Planes in Palm Springs. General aviation airplanes will taxi on city streets from Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) to the Convention Center in downtown Palm Springs on Wednesday, October 10 at 10 am. Then, on Saturday October 13 from 3 to 5 pm, the airplanes will return to the Airport from the Convention Center. Organizing such an event is also quite an undertaking and I promise you it will be exciting and fun. FMI, visit www.aopa.org/summit.

The picture below shows a graphic of some of the steps involved and described in this blog to transport the shuttle from Florida to California:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>