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Space Shuttle Replica Independence Has A New Home

Space Center Houston is home to the replica shuttle Independence now mounted on a 747.


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The replica shuttle, once named Explorer, came to Houston in 2012. It was on display at Kennedy Space Center in Florida since 1994.

Gaydon Cooper, with Space Center Houston, said it is now called Independence, and is now mounted onto an old 747, one of two shuttle carrier aircraft that ever existed.

“This is the original one and it flew the most missions, and the other shuttle carrier aircraft is now being used for parts by NASA in another program.”

On-hand to welcome the new exihibits were former astronauts who flew on the reusable spacecraft. Retired Airforce Colonel Eileen Collins was the first female to pilot and command a space shuttle. She now helps children dream of one day becoming an astronaut.

She stresses to them the importance of STEM, which stands for science, technology engineering and math. She said the new exhibit can serve as an inspiration.

“To come here and see a full-size space shuttle and to see the 747, a lot of people haven’t seen that,” said Collins. “So, they’ll have an interactive learning center here and they’ll tours and displays. So, I think it’s going to leave people in awe when they come here and see the pure size of it.”

The Independence has been upgraded with a new “glass cockpit” like the type the real orbiters were outfitted with toward the end of the 30-year shuttle program.

Ellen Ochoa, director of the Johnson Space Center, is a veteran of four space shuttle flights. She said visitors will have access to the exhibit on different levels, beginning with the shuttle carrier aircraft.

“And then they’ll be able to go into the shuttle itself, on the mid-deck and on the flight deck,” said Ochoa. “And so they’ll really see the spaces that astronauts had, when they were in space and doing all the experiments and construction of the space station and repairing the Hubble space telescope. That whole environment that astronauts were living in to do that, will be available for people to be right up there and see.”

The Manned Space Flight Education Foundation is the non-profit behind Space Center Houston, and helps to tell the story of how space exploration began and where it’s going.

Pat Cunningham heads the development committee, and said they’re close to reaching a $12 million dollar goal to complete the Independence Project.

“After three years, we have this completed and everything mounted up, but we have to do all the infrastructure, the elevators, the runways, so people can get in it now,” said Cunningham.

The exhibit is set to open sometime next year after it completes its fundraising goal.

The space shuttle replica Independence was hoisted by crane to its permanent home atop a 747 Boeing shuttle carrier aircraft and moved to Space Center Houston. B-roll and images provided by Space Center Houston.

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