Health & Science

Airplane That Served As Shuttle Carrier Moving To Space Center

A significant artifact from the shuttle era comes to Houston, a retired Boeing 747 airplane.

This Boeing 747 (SCA) was especially built to carry NASA's Shuttles. It's being taken apart on the far side of Ellington Field.
This Boeing 747 (SCA) was especially built to carry NASA’s Shuttles. It’s being taken apart on the far side of Ellington Field.

The shuttle carrier aircraft will be moved through the Clear Lake area along more than seven miles of roads. Details on the route and nightly road closures are at spacecenter.org/bigmove.

Many Houstonians felt slighted when the city wasn’t chosen to receive a retired space shuttle to put on display. Space shuttles that actually flew went to museums in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Houston got a replica shuttle.

But a significant artifact from the shuttle era did come to Houston — the retired Boeing 747 airplane that used to fly space shuttles back to the Florida launch pad if they landed somewhere else.

“I think this is a moment of great pride for Houston,” said Gayden Cooper, communications director with Space Center Houston. The museum is raising $12 million dollars for a new exhibit, which will include the historic airplane — and the replica shuttle mounted on its back.

Just moving the plane from its last landing site, Ellington Field, will cost $1 million dollars.

A volunteer team from Boeing has partially disassembled the jet and put the pieces on a convoy of huge trailers. The convey will be on the move Monday and Tuesday nights.

Cooper says it might be worth staying up late to see it.

“It’ll be in several pieces and the largest piece is the majority of the fuselage,” she said. “But that one piece is roughly 190 feet long. It’s more than two NBA basketball courts laid end to end. So that’s a pretty big piece.”

There are no designated viewing areas; nearby residents will be on their own to catch a glimpse. Cooper urged them to consult the route map at spacecenter.org/bigmove.

After the shuttle arrives at the museum, it will take about six weeks to put the plane back together.

You can watch that process in person at Space Center Houston, or by webcam.

When the exhibit finally opens in 2015, visitors will be able to walk around inside the airplane and walk inside the shuttle replica.

Cooper frames that as a distinct advantage, because visitors to the real shuttles in New York and L.A. can’t actually go inside of them.

 

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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