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Enterprise Pods Tested for Move
An ALTA pod is tested on Endeavour.An approach and landing test article is placed with space shuttle Endeavour as teams practiced the steps needed to perform the work on Enterprise inside the space at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
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The approach and landing test articleThe approach and landing test article sits on its transportation trailer before it is lifted for the evaluation. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
› View larger image Enterprise flies off a 747 for landing test. The approach and landing test articles were made for Enterprise ahead of the glide tests the prototype shuttle made in 1977. After the flight tests, the pods were used on operational shuttles as they were ferried from Florida to California. Photo credit: NASA
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Teams at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida continue practicing rarely performed techniques for moving space shuttles among some of the nation's premier museums as next year's shuttle shuffle nears.

The latest rehearsal saw an inoperative orbital maneuvering system pod positioned with shuttle Endeavour to practice placing two of the pods on the prototype shuttle Enterprise for transportation next year. The inoperative pods were made for Enterprise to use during its approach and landing tests in 1977.

Housed temporarily inside High Bay 4 inside Kennedy's mammoth Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, Endeavour was the focus of a pair of heavy cranes and operators for the run through.

The mockup pods, known as ALTA pods for Approach and Landing Test Article, will be fitted again on Enterprise so it can be taken safely by airplane from its current display at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, D.C., to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum in New York City. The pods currently on Enterprise are wooden replicas that are not strong enough for flight.

By trying them out on Endeavour first, the Kennedy workers learned what to expect when they do it inside the confines of the Smithsonian museum.

"We spent a lot of time mocking up the Vehicle Assembly Building to create the same floor plan layout we will be working in at the Udvar-Hazy Center," said Bart Pannullo, the vehicle manager for the transition and retirement program. "This allowed us to be sure all the equipment we were using would fit and function in the same working envelope.

It also gave workers who have not dealt with the pods before a chance to practice and refine the process, Pannullo said. It takes about three days to install the ALTA pods.

The ALTA pods are replicas of the orbital maneuvering system pods, or OMS pods, that shuttle used to steer in space.

Although designed for Enterprise, which never went into orbit, the ALTA pods were used on all the shuttles when they were flown on the back of a modified 747 from Florida to the shuttle's factory in Palmdale, Calif., for periodic overhaul.

They were last used in 2001 when Columbia was brought back from the West Coast to Kennedy, Pannullo said.

The shuttles that flew into orbit during the 30-year program will be displayed with the operational pods they used, although those pods will have been drained of toxic residue and other potential hazards before they are put on display.

Discovery will take the place of Enterprise at the Smithsonian. Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles and Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Moving the spacecraft safely has been an intense focus for the shuttle team since each is a priceless artifact of space travel. Earlier this year, for instance, teams rehearsed at Kennedy to lift the shuttles off their ferry aircraft without using the specialized structures available at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

Steven Siceloff
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center