By Jim Allen
Although the Space Shuttle Discovery completed its last mission on 9 March, its final journey towards display in one of America’s top museums has just begun.
While all three Shuttles are destined for public display, the exact locations are yet to be announced. Work is already underway to prepare Discovery for public display.
The first task in the process, which will last up to nine months, is to take the Shuttle to the orbiter processor facility (pictured above) at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle landing facility.
Here engineers work through the standard post-flight procedures. Although Discovery will never fly again, Endeavour and Atlantis are both due trips to space and important information could be revealed from Discovery’s final trip.
The retirement of Discovery also gives engineers the chance to investigate equipment previously too difficult to access.
“There are some hydraulics systems we haven’t had a chance to look at because it was really too invasive to get to, so we’re going to request that the teams pull some of those components out and do some forensics,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator.
From Florida the rocket pods that make up the Orbital Maneuvering System and the forward reaction control system thrusters (pictured right) will be sent to New Mexico, where they will be dismantled and decontaminated.
The Shuttle’s exterior will also be restored to its original appearance, and engineers will make sure that Discovery is robust enough to be transferred to its final setting on the back of the 747 Shuttle Carrier aircraft.
Whilst NASA wants to keep the Shuttle as authentic as possible, there will be parts removed for future study.
The Shuttle’s main engines (pictured left) will be saved by NASA for possible re-use, or as the basis for powerplant of the next generation of space vehicle.
Discovery will receive dummy engines for display, made from refurbished scrap nozzles, but these won’t contain any he parts that can’t be seen.
“For the most part, the Shuttles will remain intact,” says Stephaine Stilson, retirement director. “We want to keep them looking as flight-like as possible.”
Although the decision on Discovery’s final destination will not be released until 12 April, the top two contenders are the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida.
Whichever site is chosen, it will have to pay a reported $28.8 million bill to cover getting the Shuttle ready and transported.