Tag Archives: Space Shuttle Carrier

Houston’s Shuttle Mockup gets Tagged

The other night vandals hopped over a short fence and sprayed graffiti on the Space Shuttle mockup at Space Center Houston.

The mockup that was renamed “Independence” following its arrival from Kennedy Space Center where it was known as “Explorer” is part of a planned exhibit which will include a Boeing 747 that used to ferry the real Space Shuttles from coast to coast.

According to Space Center Houston officials the eight-story tall mated plane and Shuttle mockup exhibit is expected to be completed in 2015.

In the meantime, the Space Shuttle mockup stands sentry outside Space Center Houston to welcome visitors and to help them see just how large the Space Shuttle was.

It was one of those visitors, a tour bus driver, who alerted Space Center Houston officials to the graffiti.

When the Space Shuttle Mock up arrived via water taxi it was sans "tagging." Last week someone changed that fact by spray paint the side of the mockup while it was sitting outside Space Center Houston. Photo R. Anderson

When the Space Shuttle Mock up arrived via water taxi it was sans “tagging.” Last week someone changed that fact by spray-painting the side of the mockup while it was sitting outside Space Center Houston.
Photo R. Anderson

This story caused several questions to come to my mind when I first heard it.

The first question was how was it that Space Center Houston employees were not the first ones to notice the graffiti?

In the spirit of full disclosure it should be noted that I do not own a Space Center where mockups of vehicles are stored. I am fairly certain if I did though I would make sure that someone walked the grounds every day and checked on things before opening the doors to the public.

If the “tagged” mockup was able to be noticed by a guy driving in I would think that it could be noticed by an employee walking the grounds.

To be fair to Space Center Houston though I guess bus drivers do ride up pretty high in their vehicles so perhaps it was easier for them to see it than someone walking on the ground.

The second question that crossed my mind when I saw the mockup covered in black spray paint was how was it so easy to get to?

I mean I know that the mockup, that I affectionately call Balsa Shuttle due to it being made mostly out of wood, is not a real Space Shuttle so it does not have the same protections that a real Space Shuttle would have.

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft pictured with Space Shuttle Endeavour on it will be moved to the front of Space Center Houston and will join the Shuttle mockup in a ferry flight configuration in 2015. Photo R. Anderson

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft pictured with Space Shuttle Endeavour on it will be moved to the front of Space Center Houston and will join the Shuttle mockup in a ferry flight configuration in 2015.
Photo R. Anderson

And of course here is the spot where people can go on and on about how wrong it was that Houston did not get a real Space Shuttle until they are blue in the face.

Personally, as I have noted before I think that based on the inventory of Space Shuttles available the placement of the Shuttles was justified with the exception of perhaps Space Shuttle Enterprise which is sitting on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Hudson River in New York City.

I guess I missed the tail hook landing features of the Space Shuttles that would make placing it on an aircraft carrier make any sense whatsoever.

Although watching a Space Shuttle return from orbit and deploying a tail hook to make a carrier landing certainly would have been something that one would not forget witnessing.

Anyway, back to Balsa Shuttle. I know that it would not be prudent at this or any other juncture to have a guard stand watch over the Shuttle mockup all night.

But seriously it is only protected after hours by a knee high fence? I certainly hope there was a better security plan in place in the event that Space Center Houston had been given a real Space Shuttle.

Space Shuttle Endeavour is on display in California. Many people in Houston feel that a real Space Shuttle should have been given to Houston. One hopes that is Houston had been given a real Shuttle they would have treated it better than the mockup they were given. Photo R. Anderson

Space Shuttle Endeavour is on display in California. Many people in Houston feel that a real Space Shuttle should have been given to Houston. One hopes that if Houston had been given a real Shuttle they would have treated it better than the mockup they were given.
Photo R. Anderson

Space Center Houston officials have said that there is video evidence of the fence hopping spray painters in action so they are hoping to bring them to justice soon. But, it seems to me that there would have been some sort of patrol of the grounds overnight where one or more people standing on the wing of a Space Shuttle mockup would have been noticed.

It should be noted that once the Space Shuttle mockup is mated on top of the Boeing 747 it should be harder to tag since it will be higher up off the ground. Although it will likely have a stairway leading up to it so perhaps it will still not be safe from what I am assuming were adolescents who were off school and bored.

I am picturing the exchange went a little something like this.

Kid 1: Hey, remember that cool space themed science museum we used to go to every year on field trips with school?

Kid 2: You mean Space Center Houston?

Kid 1: Yeah, wouldn’t it be cool to go there right now and learn something new about space exploration?

Kid 2: I think they’re closed dude since it is like dark out and stuff.

Kid 1: Well, I guess we could just go spray paint the Space Shuttle with the big barn doors on it since they are closed and we can’t go in and learn how to be engineers and expand our minds.

Kid 2: Okay.

Okay, so the exchange probably went nothing like that. It should also be noted that while I certainly have no proof that the spray painting was done by kids it does seem to fit a profile of what bored kids with a week off from school might do.

And considering all of the things that bored kids could have done to Balsa Shuttle, I mean Space Shuttle Mockup Independence, Space Center Houston officials should probably count their lucky mock ups that they have a painted mockup versus a burned to the ground mockup.

And while I in no way condone the act of vandalism committed or am suggesting that any further harm befall it, it was likely that the mockup was due for a new coat of paint anyway as anything that spends time under the Texas sun is bound to fade and need a touch up now and then.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it is time to move my car into the shade and out of the paint fading Texas sun.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

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