HOUSTON — NASA is set to begin delivering its retired space shuttles next month to museums for their public display.

Out of the four orbiters to be moved — Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, as well as the prototype Enterprise — two are ready and waiting to be flown to their new homes in April, while the remaining two are undergoing final preparations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

On March 9, NASA parked Discovery inside Kennedy’s 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, where it will wait until mid-April for its ferry flight atop NASA’s shuttle carrier aircraft, a modified Boeing 747, to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center just outside Washington.

It is at the Udvar-Hazy Center where the test orbiter Enterprise is now ready and waiting for its own flight on April 23 to New York, where it will go on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Meanwhile, back at Kennedy, Discovery’s move to the assembly building freed up an orbiter processing facility (OPF) hangar for technicians to continue working on Atlantis. Now in OPF-1, Atlantis is being prepared for its display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It will be rolled down the road to the public facility in early 2013. Nearby in OPF-2, Endeavour is being readied for its flight in mid-September to Los Angeles.

As it has done with the two other orbiters that flew in space, NASA is removing and saving parts from Endeavour’s propulsion and maneuvering systems, either in an effort to make the shuttle safe for public interaction or to possibly be reused in support of the next-generation Space Launch System. Endeavour, like its sister ships, will be outfitted with replica main engines, too.

Other work still to be done on Endeavour includes the reinstallation of its orbital maneuvering engine pods, which were sent out to White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico to be serviced for display; the removal of the pyro systems, which supported contingencies on the orbiter; and the extraction of three power-providing fuel cells to be serviced and returned.

Only two of the fuel cells will be reinstalled. The third will be shipped separately to the California Science Center to be displayed near Endeavour. For similar reasons, the orbiter’s food galley, waste collection system (toilet) and some of its mid-deck lockers will also be kept outside the vehicle for their separate exhibit.


Robert Z. Pearlman is editor of collectSPACE.com.