HOUSTON — A large sign outside the entrance to Space Center Houston promotes the six-story-tall centerpiece of the new Independence Plaza as "bigger on the inside."
Starting on Saturday (Jan. 23), the public will have a chance to see for themselves as general boarding begins of the largest single artifact saved from NASA's space shuttle program: the original Boeing 747 jumbo jet that ferried the shuttle orbiters across the country between missions. Making the 8-story-tall exhibit even bigger is the addition of a full-size space shuttle replica. [Photo Gallery: First Look at Houston's New 747-Shuttle Exhibit]
"It is a world-class [exhibit]," said Frank Marlow, who was among the NASA pilots who flew the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. "It was such an honor to fly it."
Almost four years in the making, Independence Plaza is the only place in the world where the public can see a (mock) space shuttle atop a Boeing 747 jetliner and be able to go inside both. NASA's retired space shuttle orbiters and its second Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 911, are on display at other museums across the nation but those vehicles can only be viewed from their outside.
Inside the mock space shuttle Independence, guests can tour a detailed replica of the orbiter's two-level crew cabin. On the flight deck, they can see the controls the commander and pilot used to fly the shuttle. On the mid-deck, the public can enter where the astronauts lived, as well as walk into payload bay.
A hands-on museum now fills the length of NASA 905's fuselage, providing guests with a look back at the history of the space shuttle and how a jumbo jet was able to fly the orbiters between the launch and landing sites. Visitors can try their hands at mating a shuttle atop a 747, run the aircraft and spacecraft stack through a wind tunnel and view the original flying scale model of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that convinced NASA a jetliner could carry an orbiter piggyback.
The eight-story-tall access tower that enables guests to enter both the aircraft and shuttle also offers panoramic views of NASA's nearby Johnson Space Center and the surrounding Clear Lake area in Houston.
"Visitors will be a part of history entering this one-of-a kind exhibit," Richard Allen, the president and CEO of Space Center Houston, said.
See full coverage of Space Center Houston's Independence Plaza at collectSPACE.com.