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Space Shuttle Endeavour pays Tribute to White Sands Test Facility
October 5, 2012

Space Shuttle Endeavour piggybacked on the 747 Shuttle Transport Carrier flies over the White Sands Test Facility located near Las Cruces, NM. wstf0912e11741 (Photo by Reed Elliott)

Space Shuttle Endeavour piggybacked on the 747 Shuttle Transport Carrier flies over the White Sands Test Facility located near Las Cruces, NM.
wstf0912e11741 (Photo by Reed Elliott)

View Larger Image Piggybacked on a 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at an altitude of about 1500 ft, Space Shuttle Endeavour first flew slowly around White Sands Missile Range before traveling to the White Sands Test Facility (WSTF), to the delight of hundreds of NASA and contractor personnel. After paying tribute to WSTF, Endeavour flew over the city of Las Cruces, NM on the way to its final destination in California.

"The flyover of the Space Shuttle Endeavour is a tribute to the employees who have worked decades on the Space Shuttle Program," said Frank Benz, Manager, White Sands Test Facility.

"This was awesome!" said Lela Hunnicutt-Mack, a geologist who works in the Environmental Department at the test facility, about the flyover. "Even though today was my day off, I couldn't miss this opportunity to view the shuttle one last time."

The employees of the White Sands Test Facility established an unparalleled reputation with their dedication and attention to detail on the Space Shuttle Program. The early testing of space shuttle orbital maneuvering subsystem (OMS) engine technology and prototype engines began in 1973 and candidate OMS engines from four manufacturers were tested to select the OMS engine manufacturer and define baseline data in the official OMS engine design. In addition, OMS and reaction control system (RCS) qualification testing helped WSTF earn its stellar reputation in spaceflight propulsion knowledge.

From 1974 through 1977, WSTF modified and improved its propulsion test facilities to accommodate extensive testing of the space shuttle propulsion systems, including propellant supply systems, the altitude simulation system, instrumentation and control systems, articulated thrust structures, and moveable shelters.

WSTF employees worked on projects that kept the space shuttle flying safely. As an example, the Space Shuttle Fleet Leader Program simulated the mission duty flights of the OMS, forward RCS, and aft RCS. These tests were intended to capture any age or life-related anomaly prior to occurring on flight vehicles. The real benefit of the program turned out to be providing active test beds for new procedures and processes or support evaluation of anomalies.

NASA used the White Sands Space Harbor (WSSH) as the primary training location for Space Shuttle commanders and pilots flying practice approaches and landings in the shuttle training aircraft (STA), a Gulfstream business jet modified to mimic the flight characteristics and instrumentation on the shuttle. WSSH was the landing site for Orbiter Columbia as it ended the third flight of the Space Shuttle Program on March 30, 1982. The space harbor continued to be used as a back-up landing site in case of inclement weather at Edwards Air Force Base, California or Kennedy Space C, Florida, until its decommissioning this year.

Workers from WSTF also decommissioned the retiring shuttles' pods, which housed the thrusters on the forward and aft reaction control systems.

"We knew that would be the end of the Shuttle Program, when we decommissioned the shuttle pods," said Gerardo Mendoza, an electrical technician in the 300 Area, "but I am proud to have worked on the Shuttle Program and excited about NASA's new vehicle. My wife Nohemi took our children out of school and they were able to watch the shuttle flyover at the Las Cruces Veterans Park. You should have heard their shouts of excitement to see the shuttle one last time!"

"It was somewhat bittersweet to see Endeavour fly over," said Robert Cort, Associate Manager, Technical, at the NASA White Sands Test Facility. "It represents the end of an era for many employees; they spent much of their careers working on some aspect of the Space Shuttle Program. But it also represents a new beginning; our manned spaceflight program can look forward to exploring further away from mother earth. And for the employees of WSTF that work has already begun:  supporting the commercial crew and cargo providers, the development of Orion and the Space Launch System, and all of the other great programs that we are supporting. Above all, it was really, really nice to have the employees honored with Endeavour's farewell flyover today."

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