Space Shuttle Replica Explorer Sets Sail for Houston on Open-air Barge

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A full-size replica of the space shuttle departed NASA’s Florida spaceport for the agency’s Texas space center early May 24, riding atop an open-air barge.

The high-fidelity space shuttle mockup, which was known as Explorer for the 18 years it was displayed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, will sail into Houston’s Clear Lake on June 1.

A three-day public “Shuttlebration” is planned to mark the replica’s arrival, which will build up to the shuttle’s delivery to Space Center Houston, the visitor center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Once there, the mockup will be on display outdoors, where it will offer guests the opportunity to tour the shuttle, both inside and out.

The replica will eventually become the star attraction of a new educational exhibition themed around the now-retired space shuttle program. In Florida, its departure clears the way for the arrival of the real space shuttle Atlantis, which will open for display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in the summer of 2013.

The mockup, which was built by Florida-based aerospace replica manufacturer Guard-Lee Inc., is considered to be the highest fidelity model of the shuttle ever created. Built using schematics, blueprints and archived documents lent by NASA and its shuttle contractors, some of the replica’s core parts, including the tires used on its landing gear, are authentic to the shuttle program.

The shuttle replica’s eight-day trip by sea will end with an afternoon arrival. Greeted by a flotilla and a public street party, it will be the largest item to use the NASA Road 1 (or NASA Parkway) ramp since the stages of a Saturn 5 moon rocket arrived in 1977.

It will take a day to offload the orbiter mockup from the barge onto a transporter in Houston before it is moved the 1.6 kilometers to Space Center Houston during an early morning parade June 3.