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Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft On Its Way To Final Destination

Boeing 747 will be part of permanent exhibit at Space Center Houston.


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space shuttle carrier aircraft
The 1,000 foot-long convoy passed Clear Lake City Boulevard shortly after midnight.

There was lots of excitement in Clear Lake on Monday night.

Starting at 9 p.m., an about six-mile portion of State Highway 3 was closed and crews started lifting traffic light wires and moving signs and poles that were in the way of the 35-foot tall Boeing 747.

The retired shuttle carrier aircraft has been disassembled into seven major loads — the fuselage, the two wings, the vertical and horizontal stabilizers and two tailcone sections. Each load is transported on a trailer at walking speed — with frequent stops while the crews are at work.

That makes it pretty easy to get a good look, even at night. At the intersection of Highway 3 and Clear Lake City Boulevard, more than 100 people waited — some for hours — for the large convoy to pass by, which it finally did shortly after midnight.

One of them is Marlene Morgan, a self-described space geek. She plans to be there again Tuesday night for part two of the trek.

“This is history in the making,” she said. “This is the final goodbye to our entire shuttle program. So we’re here to say goodbye to her. We’re going to walk with her.”

The Boeing 747 was disassembled into seven major loads and put on trailers at Ellington Field.

The Big Move, as Space Center Houston has dubbed it, has been planned for almost a year. Space Center Houston director Richard Allen said there were two major planning stages: disassembly of the plane and figuring out the move.

 “They had to identify every traffic light, every wire that we had to move or not move if it was high enough,” he said. “If you notice the wire over here — the Comcast wire — they had to take down, the power wires were high enough that they were able to get under it.”

And of course the nighttime closing of the road needed to be coordinated.

Until Tuesday night at 9 p.m., the convoy is camping out on a side street by NASA Parkway. Then it will cover the remaining two miles to Space Center Houston. This part is actually the more challenging one because of a large overpass sign on NASA Parkway that has to be moved.

If everything goes according to plan, the plane will arrive at the visitors center Wednesday morning around 3 a.m. And then the reassembly can begin.

“I think it’s Friday they’re going to move the fuselage up on the pad,” said Allen. “And then Boeing will come in the following week and start getting ready to put the wings and the tail and everything back on it.”

Just the reassembly is expected to take about six weeks. When that’s all done, the space shuttle replica that’s currently on display at Space Center Houston will be installed on top of the 747.

It will be a walk-through exhibition seen nowhere else in the country.

Sixteen year-old Sean Peterson said that gives Houston special bragging rights.

“Well, I’d say it makes Chuck Schumer’s display look small compared to ours,” he said. “We don’t have the real shuttle, but we have probably the largest of the exhibits and that’s pretty cool.”

The shuttle/747 exhibit is slated to open in mid-2015.