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On September 14, 2012, the Shuttle Endeavour was rolled from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the Shuttle Landing Facility (runway) and mated piggyback to NASA’s 707-100 for its ride to Los Angeles beginning Monday morning, September 17, 2012. The Media had to be at the media site by 3:30 am. This picture was taken shortly after the Endeavour had been rolled out of the VAB at 5:15 am.

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Endeavour was towed to the mating device on right. The towing took less than two hours. The Mating Crew arrived at 7 am. This was the final time a shuttle would be mated to a NASA 747-100. The 747, which arrived in Florida earlier in the week, was parking on the tarmac, just out of view to the left.

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Once in the mating device, the Endeavour is attached a slings (yellow). First the nose is lifted, as shown in this picture, then the entire shuttle is raised allowing the 747 to drive in underneath the shuttle. Endeavour is the second of the surviving three NASA shuttles to be sent to a museum. Each shuttle weighs a somewhat different amount. Endeavour, after prepping for the California Science Center, is the lightest of the three. It weighs 155 tons.

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Piggybacking a shuttle to a 747 is an exacting business. NASA officials advised that this final mating would take about 12 hours, similar to the lift-to-mate process when the shuttles were placing on the crawler/transporters in the VAB (see photos of that process elsewhere in this Blog). Weather hastened the process on September 12, 2012, however. Endeavour was rolled out of the VAB at 5 am, and loosely secured to the 747 by 1:30 pm. Final tightening down of Endeavour onto the back of the 747 was left to the following day, September 15, 2012.

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Once the shuttle is secured to the straps, it is lifted and the 747 is towed into the mating device directly under the shuttle. Crews then slowly lower the shuttle onto the 747’s back. This mating of shuttle with the NASA 747-100s was used for more than 35 years without mishap from the beginning of flight tests of the shuttles in the mid-1970s through this final mating.

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The mating is complete. Once the shuttle is completely secured to the 747, a process that was completed the following day, the 747 with shuttle attached was scheduled to be backed out of the mating device early Sunday morning, September 16, 2012. Then, the following morning, the 747 was scheduled to depart Kennedy Space Center at first light, circling KSC and nearby beaches in a final good-bye. Then Endeavour and the 747 headed west, first overflying NASA’s Stennis facility in Mississippi (where the shuttle main engines are now stored) and landing at Ellington AFB south of Houston. The following days Endeavour would fly to El Paso, Edwards Air Force Base, California, and overfly northern California before landing at Los Angeles International Airport on September 20, 2012 (if all goes well).

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Flow Manager Stephanie Stilson (right) talks to a media representative with the 747-100 in the background. Ms. Stilson has been a flow manager overseeing preparation of the shuttles for space for 12 years, and has overseen the preparation of all three shuttles for the museums. With Endeavour going to Los Angeles, only Atlantis remains at KSC. Atlantis is scheduled to go to the KSC Visitors Center on November 2, 2012. Then Ms. Stilson will spend a year at NASA headquarters on a different project beginning in December.

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