Space Shuttles Trading Spaces in Houston, NYC and LA

Space shuttle prototype Enterprise (at left), the replica Explorer (at center), and flown Endeavour are moving toward museums.
Space shuttle prototype Enterprise (at left), the replica Explorer (at center), and flown Endeavour are moving toward museums. (Image credit: NASM/KSCVC/NASA)

Six months after leaning they were or were not going to be getting one of NASA's retired space shuttles for display, museums in Los Angeles, Houston and New York are moving forward, and around, with their plans to bring the winged spacecraft to their facilities.

The California Science Center in Los Angeles will be the first museum to take ownership of an orbiter, Endeavour, during a private title-transfer ceremony scheduled for next week.

The prototype shuttle Enterprise, which unlike Endeavour never flew in space, isn't scheduled for transfer — by title or transport — until next year but the plans to display it at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City are moving.

And while Space Center Houston, the official visitor center for Johnson Space Center, was not awarded an orbiter, it is still planning to display a full-scale shuttle and in doing so, make room for space shuttle Atlantis to move to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

NASA announced its selection of museums for the retired shuttles in April 2011. Endeavour, Atlantis and their older sister ship Discovery, which the Smithsonian will exhibit in Virginia, have been undergoing preparations at Kennedy to make them safe for public display. Discovery is slated to be the first shuttle to be moved next April.

No shuttle, no problem

Houston was not among the four locations NASA chose for a space shuttle display but plans are getting underway there to exhibit a full-size walkthrough orbiter and to build a new 8,000 square foot facility to highlight the space shuttle program.

Explorer, a full-scale space shuttle replica that for years has been on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, will be moved to Space Center Houston. The lot it leaves vacant in Florida will be filled by a new facility to display shuttle Atlantis.

Unlike Atlantis and the other flown shuttles, Explorer will offer Space Center Houston guests the opportunity to go where the other orbiters' visitors cannot: inside. [Vote Now: What's Your Favorite Space Shuttle?]

"Of course, we are very disappointed we didn't get a real orbiter, but we're excited we're getting a shuttle mockup," Paul Spana, Space Center Houston's exhibits manager, told collectSPACE. "With the other orbiters, you'll be able to go up to them and see them but you can't actually go on board, you can't actually go inside of it. So we see that as being a positive thing about receiving the Explorer; our guests will be able to access the mockup on two levels: one on the flight deck and then on the mid-level deck."

"Not only is [Explorer] full scale, so people can get close to it and get a sense of how big it is — because there aren't too many places you can experience that — but not only that, you'll be able to go on board the orbiter," Spana said.

How Explorer is moved to Houston — by barge or some other means — and when it arrives is still under review. Once at the Johnson Space Center visitor center though, it will be displayed outside.

A nearby extension to Space Center Houston meanwhile, will house one of only two crew compartment trainers that astronauts used to train. Originally, that full-scale mockup was promised to the National Air and Space Museum, but the Smithsonian recently released it to stay in Houston.

Space Center Houston is hoping to pair the mock shuttle crew cabin with a real walkway that shuttle crews used to enter the orbiter on the launch pad.

"The white room and gantry from [Launch] Pad 39B may be available and I'm hoping that we get that," Spana said. "One thought, and I haven't discussed this with anyone, it might be nice to see the crew compartment trainer in the vertical position and have the white room and the gantry attached to it."

"We've got a very good chance of getting that piece and if we do, it should be pretty soon," he said.

Continue reading at about the shuttle displays in New York and California.

Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and Twitter @collectSPACE and editor Robert Pearlman @robertpearlman. Copyright 2011 All rights reserved.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.