NASA's space shuttles have journeyed into orbit well more than 100 times, making more than 20,000 loops around the planet along the way. But their final journeys to Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and New York are a logistical feat all their own. NASA moves the shuttles on the back of a modified 747, but no one has shipped a shuttle like that in more than 20 years. So NASA is dusting off some old equipment at Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week, practicing the careful business of lifting spaceships.
The space agency has unboxed its specially-built sling, four huge masts, and two cranes that are necessary for the complex procedure. The space shuttles, stripped down for public viewing, will each weigh some 175,000 pounds--or more than 87 tons--enough to bow the boom of the cranes. And naturally NASA would prefer not to drop one of them (there's a limited supply).
So the crew of about 45 people that will undertake the mating and de-mating of shuttle to carrier aircraft are getting some practice runs in at the Shuttle Landing Facility at KSC. They are using a mobile setup last used in 1985 to move the shuttle Enterprise to Washington D.C. rather than the specially designed "mate-demate devices" (MDDs) that were built at KSC and Edwards AFB decades ago. Those MDDs are actual structures designed for this kind of lifting. But crews bound for D.C., New York, and Los Angeles will have no such luxury when they start moving shuttles next year.
As such, the teams are rethinking and redesigning some procedures so that the system will work at each of the locations. At KSC they've had to drill about 200 holes in the area around the lift site to anchor all the gear, and presumably they'll have to make similar alterations at the lift sites at the shuttles' final destinations.
In short, moving a space shuttle is no small undertaking, and NASA is treating this like any other shuttle mission--with lots of preparation and practice prior to the real thing. Discovery will be the first shuttle to make the move, bound for the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in D.C. sometime in spring 2012.
"NASA moves the shuttles on the back of a modified 747, but no one has shipped a shuttle like that in more than 20 years."
That cannot be right can it, there have been more recent landing at Edwards that would require it to moved by the 747 aircraft. After STS-125 the shuttle was moved to Edwards to Kennedy on the 747 and that was in 2009.
I'm quite sure they did this EVERY time the landing strip was not at the Kennedy Space Center, which was quite often throughout the space shuttle program due to varying weather. Fact checking needs done badly.
I think they meant by cranes. NASA has a gantry lift that they use normally. I saw it when I was down at the Kennedy for STS-133 launch
Oh now I see what they mean, no one has loaded a space shuttle on the back of a 747 at KSC in 20 years, so they're doing it the old way. But still, wording fail for implying 747 transport was uncommon.
There's clearly a problem with the first paragraph that could be restated. I think it was supposed to say that no one has demated a shuttle from a 747 without the MDD in that long.
The MDD is a pretty impressive looking rig, I wish we could see it closer. The best we see is off in the distance on the tour, or a small model at one tour stops. But it's just too big to pack up and send it somewhere.
Definitely poorly worded first section- the author should have clarified. By using the term shipping, I suppose he implied a one way trip?
Clearly, instead of "like that", (referring to the previous sentence) he should have said "using a crane to mate/demate"
The Discovery/Enterprise swap at the Smithsonian should be particularly interesting.
I am all for the Smithsonian getting the Space Veteran Discovery in place of the Air Drop test Enterprise- but honestly, if we have money for this sort of thing, please let the parties stop sayin' we're broke! We are replacing one display with another- a nice thing to have - but certainly not urgent / must thing to have in a recession/ with our 12.5 trillion dollar debt situation
cm121, each location bidding on a Space Shuutle for display at their location was expected to prove that they could raise the funds to both purchase and transport 'their' Shuttle.