Shuttles Among Us
Now that NASA has ended the Space Shuttle program, we have the amazing opportunity to see these vessels up close and personal at four exhibits around the country. After three decades of service, NASA permanently grounded the shuttles in 2011 under a White House mandate to focus on new goals to build transport to land astronauts on faraway asteroids and eventually Mars. This year, the four remaining shuttles have been making their way to permanent homes across the country. Facebook and Twitter were abuzz with the most recent journey, as the space shuttle Endeavour made its way to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Here’s a look at where you can see the shuttles and learn more about this dramatic and interesting part of our American history.
Los Angeles – Endeavour
NASA gave the Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles and the exhibition is set to open on October 30, 2012. Along with the shuttle, the pavilion will feature video experiences and photos from some of Endeavour’s missions, as well as items and artifacts that flew into space with Endeavour, for guests to see up close. Known as the baby shuttle, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986. Endeavour flew 25 times, spent 299 days in space and circled Earth nearly 4,700 times. Endeavour was named by elementary students and carried the first African-American female astronaut into space.
New York – Enterprise
Enterprise, a prototype shuttle that flew in approach and landing tests but never went into space, is now housed on the retired World War II aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Intrepid, which
is docked in the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. The Space Shuttle Pavilion highlights the shuttle program’s stories of human triumph and technological feats. Enterprise was NASA’s very first space shuttle and the inspiration and prototype for the shuttles that followed. Enterprise was originally to be named Constitution, however, viewers of the TV show Star Trek started a write-in campaign urging the White House to select the name Enterprise. Enterprise’s exhibit sits at the front of Intrepid’s flight deck and sits just 10 feet off the ground, allowing visitors to walk directly underneath the shuttle, a feature that is unique to the Intrepid’s display. A raised platform at the front of the vehicle allows guests to come nose-to-nose with the Enterprise, as well as look into its crew cabin’s windows and down the length of the 122-foot shuttle. Striking images, descriptive texts, dramatic lighting, and immersive video experiences reveal the many aspects of the shuttle’s history in the NASA program.
Washington, DC – Discovery
In April, the space shuttle Discovery landed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space annex in Virginia after victory laps around the White House, the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The longest-serving shuttle, Discovery flew 39 times, more missions than any of its sister ships, spending 365 total days in space. By getting a close up view of this shuttle, you’ll see the effects of all those flights. Discovery’s siding is singed, seared, burned and battered, and the 20,000 black heat shield tiles are scorched, chipped and cracked; some look like they have been baked into briquettes. (Many of the tiles would have been replaced had Discovery flown again.)
Florida – Atlantis
After 33 total trips into space, Atlantis’ final mission was its most important, as it was NASA’s final Shuttle program flight. Atlantis landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011 and has been housed there ever since. On November 2, 2012, Atlantis will make the 10-mile rolling journey to its permanent home in a new $100-milion complex being constructed at the Space Center, which will officially open in the summer of 2013. You can watch the progress via webcam at the Kennedy Space Center website and tickets are selling now for the grand opening event, which will include autograph signing with astronauts, as well as many special exhibits and tours. The Visitor Complex plans to suspend Atlantis with cargo bay doors opened so that it appears to be back in orbit around the Earth.