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(CLICK to ENLARGE) The SSMEPF is on two levels. This is a map of the main level. The facility was built by Boeing in 1998 and adjoins OPF-3. In 2011, with the shuttle program ended, Boeing took over OPF-3 and is expected also to take over the SSMEPF when the last of the shuttles are shipped to Mississippi for storage.

When a Space Shuttle landed it was immediately towed back to one of three Orbiter Processing Facilities (known as OPF-1, OPF-2 and OPF-3). Each OPF served as a hangar for one shuttle, but also as a faciklity where the shuttle received a complete post flight inspection that included replacement of tiles, parts and fluids.

The three main engines at the rear of the Shuttle were removed almost immediately after arrival at the OPF by the Space Shuttle Main Engine Processing Facility (SSMEPF) personnel. The engines were taken to the SSMEPF adjoining OPF-3 and placed together in a glorified oven for eight hours, at a temperature of 160 degrees, to completely dry the engines.

Then the engines were serviced, placed in storage in the climate controlled SSMEPF to await another flight.

How many Main Engines did and does NASA have? At the beginning of the program in 1981, NASA has four shuttles and fifteen engines. Three for each shuttle (12) and an additional three spare engines. During the program six engines were lost — three in the Challenger accident, and three in the Columbia accident. The Challenger was replaced, as were its engines. At the end of the program, counting replacements, NASA had fourteen engines remaining.

Are the engines on Discovery at the Smithsonian the real engines? No. There was discussion about the Smithsonian wanting the Main Engines to be left on the Shuttle Discovery, the oldest survivor in the fleet.

It didn’t happen.

The engines on the Discovery, placed on the shuttle on December 5, 6 and 7, 2011 in OPF-1, are primarily pieces of other engines, including parts that were test parts. The engines on the Discovery when she arrives at the Air and Space Mueaum at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, are not engines that ever flew in space.

(CLICK to ENLARGE) The SSMEPF is located across the street from the Vehicle Assembly Building in the area that includes all three shuttle hangars which were known as Orbiter Processing Facilities or OPFs.

In the 135 space shuttle flights there were zero failures, and zero problems with these engines.

They are remarkably complex pieces of technology composed of 50,000 parts. Each engine is 14 feet (4.2 meters) long and 7.5 feet (2.25 meters) in diameter at the end of its nozzle.

Each engines weighs 7,000 pounds.

And the engines generated different amount of power. The meant that, because the engines were interchangeable, a shuttle could be outfilled with either more powerful, or less powerful, engines depending on the mission.

The Processing Facility building. Until 1998 the Main Engines were serviced and maintained in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Then a 34,600 square foot building was built to house the engine facility adjoining OPF-3. The building was designed and built by Boeing-Rocketdyne’s Space Shuttle Main Engine Team.

What happens to the Engines now? All engines will be shipped, at the rate of one a month, to the NASA John C. Stennis Facility in Mississippi for storage. There they will await the next space missions which are expected to be similar to the Apollo program where all engines were lost during re-entry and discarded in the ocean. In other words, while these engines each have flown in space many times, they likely will fly in space only once more and will be discarded.

In the facility six engines could be worked on at a time on two levels.

The full two-page fact sheets of the SSMEPF is at the bottom of this post.
To read, click on the image to enlarge it.

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Six engines can be worked on at a time, and three can be wired up and monitored on three separate control boards located on the second floor just behind these bays.


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Three engines were lined up and awaiting preparation for shipment to Mississippi in December 2011.


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The six work bays are on the left. Several engines are on the right. This is another view of the bay work area.


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Each shuttle Main Engine had a number, like this one -- #2044. They were closely monitored for performance, and each -- although technically identical -- performed slightly differently in terms of power delivered. This is as common in automobiles as it is in any type of equipment, including shuttle engines.


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When shuttles landed, they were taken to one of three hangars (known as OPFs = Orbiter Processing Facility) and their engines were immediately removed and taken here -- to the Drying Room in the SSMEPF. Here for 8 hours, side by side, the three engines that had just returned from space were dried in a sealed room at 160-degrees. Water and condensation were huge enemies of the engines and, need we mention? -- the ocean and salt water is only a couple of miles from the SSMEPF. Once dried, the engines remained in the temperature and humidty controlled SSMEPF until it was time to place them on another shuttle for another mission.


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The shuttle engines will be placed in this type of container for shipment to Mississippi. Once 150 people worked in the Space Shuttle Main Engine Facility. Today only 40-45 mechanics remain, and when the last engine is shipped, they will be gone as well. It is expected that Boeing, who has already taken over the OPF-3 next door, will take this space. In 1998 Boeing designed and built the SSMEPF.


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A Main Engine, looiking upward. The top would be inside the shuttle. The engines were stood on end to be serviced. This engine is stored on end.


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The upper part of the engine on the second floor where most of the engine work was done. The engines were rolled into the bay, then floor (behind the engine in this picture) was secured into place allowing mechanics to work and walk around the entire engine. The engines were manufactured in Canoga Park, California. Six were lost in flight on Challenger and Columbia. Fourteen remain.


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Three engines could be tested at a time, and a total of six could be worked on in the six bays. There are three Main Engine Pressure Supply Panels (one of which is shown on the right) which were connected to the engines (on left rear) when an engine was being tested.


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Maintaining and servicing the engines took an enormous amount of specialized tools. These tools will be packed and sent along with the engines for storage and later use.


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Lead Bob Petrie who worked at KSC for 25 years gave the media a detailed tour of his facility. Once the SSMEPF operated 24 hours a day, but as the program wound down the days slipped only to eight hours, and while the facility remained climate controlled, it was empty and dark most of the time once the end of the program approached.


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One of two SSME Leads is Bob Petrie. Mr. Petrie has worked on the Main Engines for 25 years and been a lead (head guy) for 12. His official title is Technical Operations Lead, Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne. Mr. Petrie guided us through the SSME allowing us access to everything including his office.


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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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The Space Shuttle Atlantis will land during one of the times below, and in one of the listed locations, between Thursday July 21 and Saturday July 23, 2011. The shuttles energy reserves will be 14 hours (it’s ability to keep flying) after these landing times.

STS-135 Mission crest. The final shuttle mission will end between Thursday morning, July 21, and Saturday afternoon, July 23, 2011.

Overnight, July 20-21, the shuttle undocked from the International Space Station (ISS), did a fly around the station before easing into an orbit that gradually, orbit by orbit, increased the distance between itself and the ISS. Atlantis is moving into a landing trajectory and then, about an hour before landing, will do a de-orbit burn to land at one of its three listed landing areas.

It is expected to land at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the most preferred location of the three locations.

Tuesday afternoon, July 20, 2011, the weather looked favorable for the shuttle to successfully land in Florida on its first of two Florida opportunities. The shuttle would be landing at dawn on Thursday morning, July 22, 2011

The landing opportunites and locations are as follows:

THURSDAY
KSC orbit 200 – 5:56 am EDT
KSC orbit 201 – 7:32 am EDT

FRIDAY
KSC orbit 215 – 4:56 am EDT
KSC orbit 216 – 6:31 am EDT
EDW orbit 217 – 8:02 am EDT
NOR orbit 217 – 8:04 am EDT
EDW orbit 218 – 9:38 am EDT
NOR orbit 218 – 9:40 am EDT
EDW orbit 219 – 11:15 am EDT

SATURDAY
KSC orbit 231 – 5:30 am EDT
KSC orbit 232 – 7:06 am EDT
NOR orbit 232 – 7:03 am EDT
EDW orbit 233 – 8:37 am EDT
NOR orbit 233 – 8:39 am EDT
EDW orbit 234 – 10:13 am EDT
KSC orbit 236 (descending) – 1:36 pm EDT

source:
NASA / Johnson Space Center / July 19, 2011
NASA / KSC confirms times; NOR not listed as alternative / July 20, 2011

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Shuttle mating and un-mating to the 747 which carried it back to KSC took place in this device. - NASA Photo

When the weather or other conditions forced the shuttles to land in California or New Mexico, the shuttles had to be returned to Florida for servicing and to be prepared for another launch. Accomplishing the return of a shuttle from an alternative landing site was time-consuming and expensive.

The first landings of the shuttles were planned for Edwards Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles, because of the size of the landing area. Edwards is a large dry lake bed in the high desert. But once landing was mastered which happened soon enough, the shuttles landed in Florida. With a few exceptions through the 135 shuttle missions, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, is where they returned from space and landed.

Atlantis on her way back to Florida. She will launch on July 8, 2011, the final shuttle launch ever. -NASA Photo

When a shuttle landed elsewhere, it was returned to Florida on top of a Boeing 747 specially rigged to carry it. Carrying the shuttle on top of a 747 was also used in flight tests before the actual shuttle missions in space began in 1981.

When a shuttle landed on its own in Florida, it was relatively easy (nothing was ever really easy in the shuttle program); the shuttle was simply towed back to one of three OPFs (“orbiter processing facility” or hangar).

When the shuttle returned to KSC and landed atop a 747, the 747 would taxi to the south end of the SLF (“shuttle landing facility” or runway) and using the device shown in the large photograph below, the shuttle would be removed from the 747, and then towed back to one of the OPFs.
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Returning the shuttle after landing at an alternative landing site was expensive and time-consuming. To return to Florida after a landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, took two flying days and, reportedly, cost more than a million dollars. I took this photographs, and the one below, on one of my visits to the southern end of the SLF on May 17, 2011.


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When shuttles were returned to KSC atop a 747, they taxied to the south end of the runway (SLF) to this device where the shuttle was removed.


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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Arguably the night of May 31 / June 1, 2011, will go down as one of the greatest nights in the shuttle program. In the evening the final shuttle mission continued toward launch with the rollout of the shuttle Atlantis from the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Game on! The sign tells it all -- behind Pete to the left is the landing field. Endeavour is coming home tonight, but that's not all that will happen tonight at the Cape.

Before the Atlantis arrived at Pad 39-A, hours later, Endeavour slipped out of orbit 200 miles above the Earth between the Indian Ocean and Ausralia and glided back to Earth for more than sixty minutes, landing at Kennedy at 2:32 am ending the second to last mission in the 30-year shuttle program.

Along the way there were interviews with the crew that will fly the last mission ever, and opportunities to photograph the Atlantis at 39-A as the sun rose over her, and as the sun was setting on the American shuttle program itself.

By dawn, June 1, 2011, the second to last shuttle mission was over, and the final mission, STS-135, was on the launch pad, poised ready to begin. Lift-off is scheduled no earlier than July 8, 2011 — but there is talk of bumping the launch up to July 4.

The following 25 photographs, taken between 4 pm and 4 am, document only a part of this remarkable evening and morning at the Cape.
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The Vehicle Assembly Building, diagram. Let's get oriented -- where are we going? Here's your floor plan of the Vehicle Assembly Building. First we'll enter the Transfer Aisle from the "you are here" at bottom of the diagram walking first forward through Areas K, L, M and N, largely storage areas, albeit it huge ones. Straight ahead is the door through which the shuttles entered when being brought over from their hangars. Inbetween us, and the Transfer Aisle are Areas K,L,M and N, the ceiling of the VAB, while high, is much lower. and then we'll turn into High Bay 1 between Towers D and E. Here our photographs will be on the ground floor, 4th floor, 5th floor and 16th floor. All locations in the photographs will be identified. The VAB is 37 floors, roughly 500 feet, but the shuttle only reaches to about th 16th floor. During the Apollo Moon program in the 1960s and early 1970s, all of the height of the VAB was required to assemble the Apollo rockets.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, main floor. The main hallway of the Vehicle Assembly Building where only 10 days before the Atlantis was wheeled in, turned upright and lifted 500 feet up, and then back down, and placed on the crawler that tonight and tomorrow morning will carry her to Pad 39-A, and on to space.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, main floor. This is the Crawler -- slow but steady. Once it begins moving it is about 6 hours from VAB to Pad 39-A, a distance of a few miles that is transversed on a roadway of small river rock.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 5th floor. The Crawler upper deck. The media herded between the main level, and floors 4, 5 and 16. A lack of personnel, and a growing disdain for the media by all but a few of the Kennedy Space Center personnel has created problems, perhaps compounded by the difficulty of sorting out legitimate media in an era of bloggers and decreased resources of traditional media such as daily newspapers and television networks.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 5th floor. Isn't she beautiful. The Atlantis perched and secured atop the Crawler. The shuttles are breathtaking, the closer you are to them, and the more you learn about these remarkably engineering machines, the more in awe are you of the men and women who built them, serviced and protected them, and flew them.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. , and through the window is the crawlway. That is not a two-lane divided highway you are looking at. The crawler's giant paws run are on each of that grassy divider and, by the way, they need the room. In a few moments, the crawler and Atlantis will head out onto what appears to be a four lane divided interstate. It's no interstate. This road is a one way crawlway for the shuttle.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. In the distance is Launch Pad 39-A lighted, and beyond is the Atlantic Ocean. The launch pads are on the shore.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Another view of the bay, looking downward from the 16th floor.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Photographers lean forward over yawning openings in the assembly bays, often pointing their cameras straight down. On some levels they are allowed out onto even narrower catwalks on each side of the bay. Note the reenforcing of the walkway. The other side of this catwalk overlooks the Transfer Aisle.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. There is nothing clean, nor safe, about the VAB. The catwalks are narrow and the open spaces are, of necessity, huge. It is often dirty, as with this piece of electrical equipment from which the paint is chipping off. As someone said, "nobody's cleaned anything up in decades up here"


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Elevator shafts are guarded only by metal mesh. The VAB is an industrial facility, utilitarian, not meant to be pretty.


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The Vehicle Assembly Building, 16th floor. Warning signs are everywhere in the VAB, in elevators, on catwalks, in the hallways.


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Vehicle Assembly Building, 4th floor. Going .... When the crawler begins to move, the shuttle exits the VAB fairly quickly. The crawler is slow but steady and in minutes it is gone, the bay cleaned up and gates and fences re-erected.


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Vehicle Assembly Building, 4th floor. Going ... Once out of the VAB, the shuttle is bathed in light. Earlier in the program the shuttles were moved from the VAB to the Pad in the morning, but during the final launches, the shuttles were only moved at night. The press, often invited to walk along during the day to the pad, was barred during the final missions.


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Vehicle Assembly Building, main floor. Gone! ... gates have been closed and the shuttle Atlantis has left the VAB for the final time, barring weather conditions that would require her to return for safety. The future of the VAB, the largest building in the world in terms of volume, is uncertain, but government officials are profiling the building for several companies that have expressed interest in acquiring the building. Who are they? No one will say, but word is three companies are interested.


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The landing of the Endeavour, and the end of the second to last mission, STS-134.
With the final shuttle out of the VAB and another major step of the final shuttle mission, STS-135, accomplished, attention turned to the Shuttle Endeavour which had been at the International Space Station until two days before, and which was now preparing to land at Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle landing facility.

NASA began running the press buses the short distance to the SLF (shuttle landing facility) at 11:30 pm. Carol Anne caught the first bus.

Unlike the landing of Discovery in February, which was a daylight landing, this landing would be at 2:32 am — and, given the excellent weather conditions, it seemed likely that Endeavour would land on the first of its two landing opportunities. If it could not land, the Eneadavour would remain in orbit another day and would have two additional landing opportunities the fiollowing night. The landing opportunities have to do with the orbit tracks. Each time the shuttle orbits it tracks a slightly different course. Only a couple of those tracks are suitable for landing in Florida while other tracks are suitable for other landing sites such as White Sands, New Mexico and Edwards Air Force Base, California.

In February, we had photographed the landing from the north end of the SLF (shuttle landing facility = runway). Tonight we would photograph from mid-stride of the landing field at “The Tower” where there are grandstands and other facilities.

But reality was, on a largely moonless night, we would suspected that we would witness the landing of the Endeavour, but get nothing in terms of photographs. That proved to be true.

At 12:30 am I climbed in the second of two media buses and joined Carol Anne at the SLF. The weather was so favorable, the Endeavour was cleared to do its landing burn well in advance. She was coming home. The burn slows the speed of the shuttle from nearly 18,000 miles an hour causing it to slip out of orbit. By the time the shuttle lands sixty minutes following the de-orbit burn, she is flying at only 200 miles an hour.

The de-orbit burn is about 60 minutes before landing and takes place almost exactly on the other side of the world. This morning it was off India over the Indian Ocean near Australia. Once the de-orbit burn begins, the shuttle has no where to go except to the SLF in Florida. Her speed no longer sustains orbit.

After that burn for 60 minutes everyone waits knowing she is coming.
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Shuttle Landing Field Tower at Kennedy Space Center. Grandstands for the media and VIPs are just below the tower. The tower is halfway down the runway known as the SLF, shuttle landing facility. The shuttle takes about 2/3s of the runway to land. The shuttle leaves orbit at 18,000 miles an hour about 220 miles up and touches down 60 minutes later at 200 mph at sea level.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. TV and electronic media set up on the south side of the grandstand at the SLF. Nobody got much in the way of pictures when Endeavour landed because it was so dark.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The convoy which will service the shuttle after landing, tow her back to the hangars and pick up the astronauts, arrives about 30 minutes before landing and waits just off the runway midway down the field. The convoy uses the same road the media uses to get to the grandstand. Because of the size of the convoy, the media must, therefore, go to the grandstand area first. The convoy fills the road making further passage difficult. That's why, in spite of the grumbling, the final media buses to the SLF must leave the press site so early.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The media arrives as much as 3 hours before landing with little to do except lounge against walls or make phone calls. Internet and cellphone coverage is now excellent at the landing field unlike earlier days. With desks the media are able to work. Well, unless you are eaten by bugs. Bring bug spray when you come.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. Work areas in the grandstand are surprisingly good, clean and well lighted. Views of the runway are also excellent in daylight or on nights with full moons.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The northern end of runway 15 where the shuttle was scheduled to land was well lit.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. Tracking the shuttle and monitoring mission control in Houston was easy. Here I have the tracking on my iPhone which is logged onto http://www.nasa.gov, a superb web site. At this time the shuttle was approaching central America 42 miles above the earth.


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Runway, shuttle landing field, Kennedy Space Center. The landing. You don't see anything? If you had been there you would have. The shuttle appears suddenly emerging out of the night fog and WHOOSHES by. It is breathtaking, but photography was impossible more sophisticated equipment and a much better vantage point. I have covered dozens of launches and landings in California and Florida. Itt never gets old. It gets me every time.

Here are some NASA photographs of the landing from better angles and better equipment.

NASA photograph of Endeavour landing, 1


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NASA photograph of Endeavour landing, 2

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.”petecrow/NASA” © 2011 by / Peter M. Crow and the Peter Michael Crow Trust and by Seine/Harbour® Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.

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Where will the shuttles go?
How many were built?
How many shuttles survive?
How many mockups were built? — where are they?
What was OV-95? — where did it fly?

Five shuttles were built and three survive. The order in which they came into the fleet is as follows:

COLUMBIA = OV-102 … Columbia broke up as it was preparing to land and was lost, along with its entire crew, over southeastern Texas on February 1, 2003.

CHALLENGER == OV-99 … Challenger broke up and was lost, along with its entire crew, over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after launch on January 28, 1986.

DISCOVERY = OV-103 … the oldest surviving Orbiter will go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport early in 2012. Currently hazmat materials, useful instruments and other parts that may be of later use are being removed at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Discovery has been in one of three hangars at Kennedy Space Center.

ATLANTIS = OV-104 … the second oldest surviving Orbiter, and the fourth of four originally built, will stay at the Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis will be the final shuttle to fly and is scheduled to be launched on July 8, 2011.

ENDEAVOUR == OV-105 … the youngest in the fleet, and by all accounts in very good shape “with quite a lot of life still left in her”, according to one NASA official. Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. She completed her final mission on June 1, 2011, landing at KSC at 2:32 am. Endeavour was built as a replacement when The Challenger was lost in 1986 and joined the fleet in 1991.

Where were the shuttles built?
All five shuttles were built in Palmdale, California, south of Edwards Air Force Base where shuttles originally landed during test flights, and on the earliest missions, prior to construction of the SLF (shuttle landinf facility = runway) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Later Edwards, and White Sands, New Mexico, were backup landing sites, and both were occasionally used.

Unlike the original four shuttles, construction of the Endeavour was speeded by availablily of replacement parts for the first four shuttles. Strictly speaking, unlike the first four, Endeavour was not built from scratch.

ENTERPRISE = OV-101 == Isn’t New York City getting a shuttle? —
where did THAT shuttle come from?

New York is getting a shuttle, but then again, it isn’t. New York will get the shuttle, Enterprise, currently on display at the Smithsonian. Enterprise never flew in space, but did fly in Earth atmosphere in test flights. Enterprise will be moved to New York and placed on display there. It’s a shuttle, but it was never an operational shuttle that flew in space, unlike the other three surviving shuttles. The shuttle New York City will get was an important vehicle in the development of the shuttle; it’s not some cardboard cut-out dummy, and it came close to having a life of its own in space not once, but twice. An excellent telling of the Enterprise’s history, and how it nearly became an operation shuttle itself is HERE.

EXPLORER (Mockup) ==
Why didn’t Texas, with Mission Control located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, get a shuttle?

There were only so many to go around and the prevailing thought is: politics: Texas didn’t vote for President Obama in 2008.

The shuttle mockup, Explorer, began its trip to Houston on December 1, 2011. Its name was painted out prior to the move from the Kennedy Visitors Center.

Texas is, however, getting a shuttle mockup.

The Explorer, a high definition shuttle mockup built and on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center, is on its way to Houston. It was moved from the Visitors Center in Florida to Pad 39 Media Parking lot adjacent to the KSC turning basin on December 11, 2011.

It will be shipped by barge to Galveston, and then moved overland to the Johnson Space Center in Spring 2012.

OV-95 = SAIL The Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory Shuttle This was the first shuttle to “fly” although it never flew in space. OV-95 was an exact mechanical replica of the other shuttles and used both to test systems and to fly (on the ground in tandem) beginning with a shuttle lift-off. SAIL was located in Houston. When STS-135 landed, it was broken up, the wiring re-cycled and the remainder discarded.

PATHFINDER (mockup) == (unofficially OV-98) This mockup was used to test road clearances and other non-operational spacial issues related to how the shuttle could and would be moved. At various times, after its use, it was in Japan and Florida and today is in Alabama on display. More about the Pathfinder can be found HERE.

There is logic in where all of the shuttles are going
— but that logic only goes so far:

Endeavour: The shuttles were built just north of Los Angeles so they get Endeavour

Atlantis: the shuttles were launched from KSC so they get Atlantis

Discovery: The Smithsonian always gets the premier aircraft, as they should, so they get Discovery, the oldest survivor in the fleet.

And then there’s New York City.

How did they manage to get a shuttle, albeit not an operational shuttle? Three shuttles on the east coast and one on the west? None in the midwest? Well, New York DID vote for Obama in 2008 … and …

More on the OV (“Orbiter Vehicle”) designation number can be found HERE.

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