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Up close and personal with the Shuttle Independence

While in Houston recently, I visited the Space Center Houston and toured the 80-ton shuttle replica Independence, mounted atop the historic and original NASA 905 159-ton shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA), which was the first of the SCAs.

Please do plan to visit the Space Center Houston when you are in the area. You will be amazed at all the NASA history that they have on display from past space exploration as well as future exploration missions like Orion and beyond

This is the world's only shuttle mounted on an SCA and the only one allowing the public to enter both. (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

This is the world’s only shuttle mounted on an SCA and the only one allowing the public to enter both. (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

The SCA is a modified Boeing 747 jetliner.

NASA designed a flight crew escape system, that consisted of an exit tunnel that extended from the flight deck to a hatch at the bottom of the fuselage which was installed during the modifications.

The system also included pyrotechnics that would activate the hatch release and cabin window release mechanisms. The flight crew escape system was removed from the NASA 905 following the successful completion of the Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) program.

What makes these SCAs different from their commercial aircraft 747 sisters are as follows:

  • Three struts with associated interior structural strengthening protrude from the top of the fuselage (two aft, one forward) on which the orbiter is attached.
  • Two additional vertical stabilizers, one on each end of the standard horizontal stabilizer, to enhance directional stability.
  • Removal of all interior furnishings and equipment aft of the forward No. 1 doors.
  • Instrumentation used by SCA flight crews and engineers to monitor orbiter electrical loads during the ferry flights and also during pre- and post-ferry flight operations.

During this nine-day mission on STS-49, the maiden flight of shuttle orbiter Endeavour, NASA astronauts retrieved an Intelsat VI satellite which previously failed to reach its intended orbit. The VI satellite Intelsat 603 was built by Hughes Aircraft Company and launched in 1990.

Also during that launch, the upper stage failed to separate from the satellite, which kept the two attached. That meant the perigee kick motor, used to boost the satellite to its proper orbit, could not fire.

When NASA launched the STS-49, its astronaut team went on a record-breaking spacewalk to track down the satellite, attach a new upper stage booster and place it to its proper geosynchronous orbit.

Richard Hieb, Thomas Akers and Pierre Thuot, Shuttle Mission specialists, spent more than eight hours to finally capture the lost satellite and attach the booster. That was on May 13-14, 1992.

It was the first time three astronauts had been on an extra-vehicular activity (EVA) together and remained the longest duration EVA until STS-102 crewmembers broke it in 2001.

I stood in the cargo bay of the Shuttle and saw a satellite in a cradle that would be launched into space as NASA did so many times during the Shuttle era (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

I stood in the cargo bay of the Shuttle and saw a satellite in a cradle that would be launched into space as NASA did so many times during the Shuttle era (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

In the following image you can see all the switches and knobs that the Shuttle control panels had. This is unlike the newer, more modern ‘Glass Cockpit” panels like that of the Mars Orion spacecraft. (See my article: A Planet Analog Exclusive look at the NASA Orion team

I wanted to sit in the Pilot's seat, but I don't have my wings (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

I wanted to sit in the Pilot’s seat, but I don’t have my wings (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

The crew consisted of two pilots and one flight engineer, plus an additional flight engineer when carrying a Shuttle.

This was all done because of the dilemma faced by engineers from this new shuttle, which couldn’t fly under its own power.

Those were the days! More exciting times to come with Orion. Stay tuned to Planet Analog and EDN.

The Space Center Houston highlights;

  • They are a nonprofit science and space exploration learning center, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate and a Certified Autism Center. 'We’re not NASA'.
  • There you will discover The Real Thing, including flown spacecraft, a moon rock you can touch and a behind the scenes tour of the real facilities at Johnson Space Center.
  • Guests can go inside the one-of-a-kind Independence Plaza exhibit and enter the original shuttle carrier aircraft and the shuttle replica mounted on top.
  • They inspire all generations through the wonders of space exploration.
  • There’s something for everyone with more than 400 things to see and do.

References

NASA Armstrong Fact Sheet: Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Space Center Houston website

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