Tag Archives: Houston

Houston Handed Lemons and Hoping Tourists like Resulting Lemonade

It has been said that when life hands you lemons you should make lemonade.

Of course there are many kinds of lemonade. There is yellow lemonade, pink lemonade and my personal favorite the Arnold Palmer kind which combines lemonade with one of my drinks of choice iced tea.

As refreshing as an ice cold Arnold Palmer would be right now this is not a piece on summer beverage choices. Instead, this is a piece on Space Center Houston getting some gently used items that it hopes will prove popular with the locals and tourists alike.

But before we get into the new items coming to town we need to look at some history that got them in this position.

Space Shuttle Endeavour atop the Shuttle carrying aircraft at Ellington Field Houston on its way to retirement in California. Photo R. Anderson

Space Shuttle Endeavour atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at Ellington Field Houston on its way to retirement in California.
Photo R. Anderson

Once upon a time there was a Space Shuttle that flew missions to low Earth orbit for 30 years.

Upon retirement of the Space Shuttle Program the surviving orbiters were sent to various museums across the country to inspire future generations on the joys of space travel, etc.

Early on in the process certain front runners emerged for the final resting places for the vehicles. In the game of shuttle musical chairs there were way more suitors than available Shuttles to go around.

It was a given that the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum would get one. So Discovery was sent to Washington D.C. leaving two flown shuttles and an early test glider left up for grabs.

Space Shuttle Discovery shown prior to a 2009 launch has retired to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and not in Houston as some had hoped. Photo R. Anderson

Space Shuttle Discovery shown prior to a 2009 launch has retired to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and not in Houston as some had hoped.
Photo R. Anderson

Florida was the next suitor to be given its own vehicle since few could argue that the site of every single Shuttle launch deserved to have one of its own on permanent display. So Atlantis was given to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center.

At this point the people in Houston were giddy in anticipation since that meant that they would get the newest Shuttle in the fleet to call their own.

The giddiness was short lived however as Endeavour was given to California to display.

While an unpopular decision in Houston it made sense that the state where the Shuttles were built should have one. Plus, a Shuttle on the west coast opens up the viewing to a whole new population that might never make it to see the vehicles on the east coast.

And despite the popular Toyota commercial that shows a pickup truck towing Endeavour over a bridge in Los Angeles it actually spent the bulk of its cross country trek on top of a modified Boeing 747 airplane; but more on that in a bit.

With only Enterprise left in terms of Shuttle inventory available the people of Houston resigned themselves to the opinion that a test glider that never made it to orbit was still better than nothing.

The Space Shuttle full size mockup Explorer arrives in Houston for its "retirement." Photo R. Anderson

The Space Shuttle full size mockup Explorer arrives in Houston for its “retirement.”
Photo R. Anderson

But then in a shocking development Enterprise, which had to leave the Smithsonian to make room for Discovery’s arrival, was put on a barge and shipped to New York to be placed on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Nothing says see the Space Shuttle in its natural habitat like placing it on the deck of an aircraft carrier floating in the Hudson River. As a side note Enterprise sustained some damage on the deck of that carrier during Super Storm Sandy.

So with all of the shuttles claimed and Houston still without anything to place outside their Space museum the people of Florida did them a solid and offered to give them a mock up of the Shuttle that had sat outside of KSC for many years. After all, why be greedy and keep a full size mockup of a shuttle when you are getting a real Shuttle?

Another side view of the Space Shuttle mockup. Photo R. Anderson

Another side view of the Space Shuttle mockup.
Photo R. Anderson

So with all of the pomp and circumstance that they could muster the Shuttle mockup called “Explorer” left KSC and was shipped on a barge around the tip of Florida and across the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the Johnson Space Center.

Upon its arrival the mockup, that I affectionately call Balsa Shuttle based on it being made out of many wooden components, received a hero’s welcome and was considered better than nothing among the people of Houston.

Are there still people in Houston who feel slighted at not getting a real Shuttle? Sure. But based on the numbers of shuttles available one can simply not fault the selection process of the sites with the exception of maybe New York. Although a case could be made that New York allows people from Canada better access to it and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has long been a supporter and partner in the Space Shuttle Program.

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft NASA 905 will be disassembled and moved to a permanent display paired with Space Shuttle mockup Explorer in 15 months. Photo R. Anderson

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft NASA 905 will be disassembled and moved to a permanent display paired with Space Shuttle mockup Explorer in 15 months.
Photo R. Anderson

Inside view of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Photo R. Anderson

Inside view of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
Photo R. Anderson

So with our history lesson complete let us look to the future and that lemonade making with leftover parts and pieces.

It was announced earlier this month that the Boeing 747 used to carry all of the shuttles to their final resting places has been given to Space Center Houston for display along with the shuttle mockup.

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) NASA 905 is one of two SCAs used for approach and landing tests early in the Space Shuttle Program. The planes were later used to return the orbiters to Florida whenever they landed in California.

The plane also made a stopover in Houston with Endeavor on board to allow the people of Texas to see a real shuttle up close one last time before it was ferried away to California for that date with the little towing Toyota that could.

From this angle the interior of the SCA looks like any other 747. Photo R. Anderson

From this angle the interior of the SCA looks like any other 747.
Photo R. Anderson

So, what does one do with a wooden Shuttle mock-up and a modified Boeing 747 that used to haul real space shuttles? They make plans to display them together in a nine story tall ferry flight configuration outside of Space Center Houston for visitors from across the globe to see.

Is it an ideal situation? No.

But given the “lemons” they were given it should make for as sweet of lemonade as possible.

I have had the opportunity to be inside the Shuttle mockup as well as the SCA before and if the exhibit is done right it should really let visitors see a unique perspective.

Space Shuttle Endeavour heads off to California. The plane carrying it returned to Houston shortly afterwards to prepare for retirement as a shuttle mockup holder. Photo R. Anderson

Space Shuttle Endeavour heads off to California. The plane carrying it returned to Houston shortly afterwards to prepare for retirement as a shuttle mockup holder.
Photo R. Anderson

Current plans call for visitors to be allowed inside the SCA as well as the cockpit of the mockup so they should offer some pretty cool views into the Shuttle Program.

But don’t make those plans to travel to Houston to see it just yet. Current estimates have completion of the ferry flight configuration display at least 18 months away.

And to anyone with lingering bitterness of being passed over for a real shuttle resting place I say to at least try the lemonade before constantly sucking on that lemon.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about lemons and lemonade has made me thirsty. Where did I put that pitcher of lemonade anyway?

Copyright 2013 R Anderson