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Space Shuttle Tribute Bike to Honor NASA Employees
If you hear the deep rumble of a "chopper" motorcycle around Johnson Space Center in the near future, it might be the Space Shuttle Tribute Bike, a project of a group of NASA and contractor employees teaming up with the Discovery Channel's popular "American Chopper" television show.

The Space Shuttle Tribute Bike, to be built by Orange County Choppers (OCC) of New York, will be funded solely through donations from NASA workers and individual space program supporters. Current plans are to have the bike finished by the end of April, in time to make an appearance at Kennedy Space Center for Return to Flight activities in May.

Gary Dalrymple (left) and Mary Wilms meet with OCC's Paul Teutul Sr.

Image above: NASA contractors Gary Dalrymple and Mary Wilms meet with OCC's Paul Teutul Sr.

Chopper fever has been sweeping the nation in the past few years. A group at NASA's Johnson Space Center, led by Electrical Systems Flight Controller Gary Dalrymple, came up with the idea to honor all those who make the Space Shuttles fly. Originally conceived as a tribute to the STS-107 crew, the project morphed into one that recognizes all those who work in the program -- from astronauts to program staff to the hands-on workers at various NASA centers.

"This is our way of saying it’s our Space Shuttle and we love it," Dalrymple said.

The committee has developed a Web site to provide information on the progress of the bike.

The committee also sees the bike project as a great way to educate the public and excite new audiences about space exploration. They chose to have a chopper-style motorcycle built because a chopper symbolizes the hands-on, uniquely American style that is reflected in the work ethic that built the space program.

Once built, the bike may join other NASA exhibits at functions appealing to bikers such as the Sturgis Rally or Daytona Bike Week. The bike may also tour the country and be displayed at exhibitions and at other NASA centers.

"It is intended to be owned by NASA employees who have a personal investment in the space program and who often have personal relationships with the astronauts who fly the Shuttle," Dalrymple said.

With the Shuttle's retirement set for 2010, the bike will serve as a reminder of the Shuttle's years of service on projects like the International Space Station and the Hubble telescope, and the people who worked to turn those ideas into reality.

The Space Shuttle Tribute Bike Project committee is planning a maiden voyage for the chopper, starting from Ames Research Center in California and riding to KSC, visiting NASA centers along the way. Anyone may join the ride at any point along the way as long as they follow two rules: the Space Shuttle Tribute Bike must always be in the lead, and all riders must follow traffic laws to ensure safety.

The Discovery Channel plans to air two one-hour episodes of American Chopper that will show OCC building the Space Shuttle Tribute Bike.

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