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Another Shuttle Treasure to Come to Space Center Houston for Display
On May 2, Space Center Houston (SCH) was officially awarded a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) for permanent display. SCA NASA 905, one of two SCAs used for approach and landing tests early in the Space Shuttle Program and later to ferry operational orbiters, will carry on a special educational mission at Johnson Space Center’s official visitor center.

Space Center Houston will display the SCA/orbiter replica combo Image above: Space Center Houston will display the SCA/orbiter replica combo in the approach and landing test configuration. The display will also show how orbiter ferry flights were conducted for the Space Shuttle Program. Courtesy of Space Center Houston

“We are very excited to learn that the NASA SCA has been retired and NASA has approved the disposition of the SCA NASA 905 via transfer of ownership using the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act from NASA to Space Center Houston,” said SCH Operations Manager Anson Brantley. “We will put our replica shuttle atop of the 747 to create a world-class, one-of-a-kind exhibit and, quite possibly, the world’s largest aircraft exhibit with the orbiter’s tail rising more than 90 feet above the ground.”

Last summer, SCH acquired the mock-up orbiter from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. With the acquisition of the SCA, SCH plans to modify the orbiter so that it can be mounted atop the SCA in the ferry flight configuration. Orbiter displays at other sites will depict different parts of the shuttle story, from test to launch to touchdown.

“Work will begin immediately,” Brantley said. “As one can imagine, this is a huge project, which involves the disassembly a jumbo jet, transporting the large pieces down public roads and then reassembling it in a lay-down yard right here in our parking lot. Then, of course, hoisting the orbiter replica and affixing it on top of the SCA.”

Space Center Houston will display the SCA/orbiter replica combo Image above: A walk-up tower, also equipped with an elevator, will provide access to the SCA and orbiter replica. Courtesy of Space Center Houston

While SCH’s configuration will display the orbiter and SCA in the approach and landing test and ferry flight configuration, the California Science Center will display Endeavour in a launch configuration on the pad; the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center will display Atlantis in an on-orbit configuration; the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum will display Enterprise in a runway touchdown configuration; and the National Air and Space Museum currently displays Discovery in a wheels-stopped landed configuration.

The SCA is currently at Ellington Field and will need to be disassembled to allow for transport to SCH. The Boeing Corporation has agreed to fund this portion of the project and will perform the work. Once transport and reassembly of the aircraft is complete, SCH plans to construct a tower structure, including an elevator, to provide public access to the interiors of the SCA and orbiter. The interior of the SCA fuselage will be open to the public, and controlled access to the cockpit will also be available.

“When finished, this exhibit will allow visitors and students to be able to go inside both the SCA/747 and also the orbiter replica for an unprecedented experience like no other in the world,” Brantley said. “Project completion is approximately 1.5 years and will involve many partners, including Boeing and Jacobs Engineering. We are also excited about many partners who are expressing interest in helping support this world-class educational project.”

The SCA will illustrate Space Shuttle Program history and its connection to aeronautics research with exhibits inside. Ambitious plans for classrooms, school visits and possibly sleepovers are also under consideration for the SCA interior.

Meanwhile, the interior of the orbiter replica will also be open to the public, giving visitors an experience not available at other orbiter display sites.

This up-close and personal access to American aviation history will reveal the Space Shuttle Program’s amazing ingenuity, clever innovation and awe-inspiring complexity, and it’s all coming to a visitor center very near you.