It has taken more than a decade of planning, engineering studies and fundraising, but the space shuttle Endeavor is finally ready to go vertical.
The California Science Center, which has been displaying the retired NASA orbiter in horizontal orientation since 2012, has set the date for the spacecraft’s new launch pad-style display to be installed at the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center (which is also still under development). build). On July 20 — the 54th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing — the base pieces for Endeavour’s twin solid rocket boosters, the aft skirts, will be lifted into place by crane.
“This may seem like a small first step, but it’s really a big step toward laying the groundwork for Endeavor’s vertical display,” Jeffrey Rudolph, president and chief executive officer of the California Science Center, said in a statement. exclusive interview with collectSPACE. com. “When the rear skirts are installed, it’s the first step in a decades-long dream.”
The move will also start the countdown to Endeavor disappearing from the display for a few years. The public has until the end of this year to see the vehicle close to the ground. The exhibit, as it is today and has existed in the Samuel Oschin Display Pavilion, is the only place in the world where the public can walk under the tile-lined belly of a winged orbiter.
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That experience ends December 31, in preparation for the Endeavor to be stacked in 2024 with its solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank. Even after the shuttle is installed, it will take a few more years of work to complete the Oschin Air and Space Center before it can be opened to the public.
“We started this in 2012 and there have been numerous hiccups along the way, but we’re here now and the construction is going really well,” said Lynda Oschin, whose foundation made the main donation for Endeavor’s vertical exhibit in honor of her late husband. . “Everyone is very excited.”
Less than 1/16 in
“I’m also a little nervous,” Oschin said. “There’s little to no room for error in assembling and dropping.”
Moving the rear aprons is fairly easy, requiring only a relatively small hydraulic truck crane that arrives at the science center on the morning of the lift and departs right after. As hardware goes, the two 7.5-foot-high by 18-foot-wide (2.3-by-5.5-meter) skirts will be the easiest components of the shuttle to move.
The difficulty is in their alignment.
“We’re going to examine them 20 ways back and forth because the skirts absolutely have to be in the right position. They have to be absolutely parallel, they have to be absolutely vertical because even a tenth of an inch error with the skirt [level] will be more than an inch away at 150 feet [46 meters] said Dennis Jenkins, a veteran shuttle engineer and director of the science center’s project to showcase Endeavor.
“If the skirts are not perfectly positioned, padded and aligned, it means that the two mounting points for the solid rocket boosters to connect to the external tank are not level or out of alignment with any degree of error. We have made at the bottom,” Jenkins said. “So we’re going to spend a lot of time making sure the skirts are absolutely perfect position-wise.”
In fact, the science center surveyor will be bringing in new hardware in hopes of getting measurements within 1/16 of an inch, Jenkins told collectSPACE.
“We wish he could do a little better and he’s actually buying some new equipment to try and get a little better. But we can’t live with more than that, we really can’t,” he said.
For security reasons and access issues, the rear skirt move will not be open to the public on July 20.
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History, from the ground up
One of the factors that make Endeavor’s vertical display possible is the use of all hardware that is proven or built for flight. Studies from NASA and the California Science Center have shown that the stress of keeping the shuttle upright, even over a long span of time, is less than what the vehicle experienced during its ascent into space.
“From the back skirts, everything is really as they look now,” said Jenkins. “The booster separator engines, which we’ll be putting in a few years from now, because they can get damaged hanging around a construction site — those will be replicas, because NASA isn’t going to give us real engines. They don’t like to give out propellant.”
“But the backskirts themselves are as real as they come. One of them essentially flew the entire program, from start to finish,” he said.
According to science center flight histories, the aft skirt that will sit at the base of the left solid rocket booster made its first flight in 1982 on STS-3, the space shuttle’s third flight. It then flew STS-9, STS-51B, STS-28, STS-37, STS-47, STS-62, STS-74, STS-102, STS-120 and STS-130. (Two of those launches, 47 and 130, were with Endeavor.)
The skirt that will accompany the right booster first entered service in 1985 with the launch of STS-51G. It then remained grounded for 16 years before being used again for STS-104, STS-114 (the first return-to-flight mission after the loss of space shuttle Columbia in 2003), and STS-128.
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Now the two skirts and all the hardware that will follow to realize Endeavor’s vertical display will earn “Mission 26” – the science center’s designation for displaying the space shuttle.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Rudolph. “We are excited to continue this challenging venture.”
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