Spaceflight Now

Endeavour's ride to the West Coast arrives at spaceport

Posted: September 11, 2012

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The modified Boeing 747 jumbojet that will haul the space shuttle Endeavour piggyback-style to Los Angeles next week flew across the country to Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday to pick up the spaceplane passenger.

Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft departed Edwards Air Force Base in California at 8:30 a.m. PDT, traveling 25,000 feet in altitude over the Southern U.S. at 365 knots before touching down on the Florida spaceport's runway around 5:05 p.m. EDT.

Endeavour is sitting in storage at the Vehicle Assembly Building, the ferryflight aerodynamic tailcone already installed, awaiting tow to the landing strip early Friday morning.

The orbiter will be brought into the Mate-Demate Device, the special-built lifting structure that will hoist the decommissioned craft off the ground so the 747 can pull underneath. The duo should be structurally mated together by late Friday afternoon.

The shuttle will weigh 155,250 pounds during the ferryflight, with the cone contributing 6,000 pounds of that mass, according to a NASA spokeswoman.

The combined duo will exit the structure on Sunday morning and prepare for takeoff next Monday at around 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT) on the initial leg of the multi-day ferryflight, giving the Space Coast beaches, Patrick Air Force Base and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex low-altitude buzzes for the locals bid a final farewell to Endeavour.

The orbiter's future home -- the California Science Center -- is paying for the ferryflight through a Space Act Agreement with NASA. The hands-on childrens' learning facility took ownership of Endeavour from NASA last October.

The west-bound carrier jet will soar above the Mississippi Gulf Coast and eastern New Orleans, making low flybys of NASA's Stennis Space Center where the space shuttle main engines were tested and the Michoud Assembly Facility where the external fuel tanks were manufactured.

The trek then heads for Houston, the home of NASA's Mission Control Center that has directed all manned spaceflights since 1965, for ceremonial flyovers of the region before landing at Ellington Field outside the Johnson Space Center around 10:45 a.m. local time (1545 GMT).

The flyovers at a mere 1,500 feet in altitude will cover areas of Houston, Clear Lake and Galveston between 9 and 10:30 a.m. Central, passing by such landmarks as George Bush Intercontinental, William P. Hobby and Ellington airports, plus the Houston skyline and the San Jacinto Monument. The Johnson Space Center expects to get a close encounter too.

NASA officials caution that the precise flight path and timing will be dictated by the weather and operational constraints.

After safely on the ground at Ellington, the site where the astronauts departed in T-38 jets bound for the Cape to begin their launch countdowns, the 747 with Endeavour will park near the NASA Hangar 990 pedestrian gate for public viewing on Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday. Viewing within about 100 feet of the vehicle begins 30 minutes after the 747 is parked and secured by ground personnel.

Monday's viewing will continue until 7 p.m. local time. Airport gates will reopen to the public from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The ferryflight resumes at sunrise Wednesday, Sept. 19 for a short jaunt to Biggs Army Airfield to El Paso for refueling. The journey continues later in the morning, doing a low flyby of White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico as the ferryflight continues en route to Edwards Air Force Base in California for a mid-day local time touchdown there to spend the night.

The final leg of the final space shuttle ferryflight starts at dawn Thursday, Sept. 20 with departure from Edwards and plots a course to make more low-altitude flyovers of NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field and landmarks in San Francisco and Sacramento before looping back toward Los Angeles to treat the locals and welcome Endeavour home before setting down on the runway at LAX, the international airport there at about 11 a.m.

"Endeavour's flight over Los Angeles' most picturesque landmarks will be a sight to inspire Angelenos for generations," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "Witnessing the shuttle's final flight over the Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Hills and our historic City Hall will be a sight to behold. I am proud to welcome this world-class landmark to its new home in the City of Angels."

Specific windows of time for the California flyovers have not been announced.

California Science Center Foundation President Jeffrey Rudolph noted, "It's great that the people of California will be able to see this remarkable flyover. It has great potential to inspire the next generation of explorers and innovators. We encourage everyone to come see it at the Science Center when it reaches its final destination here at the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion when it opens on October 30."

Once at LAX, shuttle workers will unload Endeavour and park her inside a United Airlines hangar to put the finishing touches on the spacecraft. NASA expects to hand over control of the orbiter to the California Science Center on Sept. 27.

But the highly complex planning for moving Endeavour on 12 miles of city streets through the concrete jungle won't begin until Oct. 12. Planning has dictated that precise date to begin the day-and-a-half move, arriving at the science center the night of Oct. 13.

Endeavour's display opens to the public on Oct. 30.

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft used for ferrying the orbiter is known as NASA 905. It was purchased from American Airlines in 1974 and configured to carry the spacecraft beginning with the program's earliest years.

The aircraft has a wingspan of 195 feet, a length of 231 feet, a height to the top of the cockpit area of 32 feet and a maximum gross taxi weight of 713,000 pounds. It is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7J gas turbine engines, each producing 50,000 pounds of thrust. The minimum crew for a flight with the shuttle aboard is two pilots and two flight engineers.