A full-scale replica of a NASA space shuttle will come into dock Friday (June 1), but rather than pull into a space station, it will arrive at port in a Texas lake near the space agency's Houston space center.
The high-fidelity space shuttle mockup, which was known as "Explorer" for the 18 years it was at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, will sail into Houston's Clear Lake to a dock opposite the Johnson Space Center, where it will be offloaded for display.
The replica left the Florida spaceport on May 24 atop an open-air, flat-bed barge and has since been making its way around the Florida peninsula and through the Gulf of Mexico. It entered Galveston Bay on Thursday (May 31).
Its arrival in Clear Lake, which is expected between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. EDT (2000 to 2200 GMT), will kick-off a weekend "Shuttlebration" that will culminate in an early Sunday morning parade to move the mockup 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) to Space Center Houston, the official visitor center for Johnson.
A welcome ceremony will launch at 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT) on Friday, with the performance of the national anthem and a flyover by NASA's T-38 astronaut training jets. Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Johnson Space Center director Michael Coats — himself, a former space shuttle astronaut — will join other invited dignitaries in delivering remarks before Max Q, the "All-Astronaut Band" will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT) for a two hour set. [Photo Tribute: NASA's Space Shuttle Program]
The Friday evening celebration will end at 10 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT June 2) with a fireworks display over Clear Lake.
On Saturday, cranes will off-load the 122.7 foot long by 54 foot tall (37.4 by 16.5 meter) mockup off the barge and onto a wheeled transporter. The 130,000-pound (60,000-kilogram) replica is the largest item to come on shore using the Johnson Space Center dock since the three stages of a Saturn V moon rocket arrived in 1977 for display.
The public "Shuttlebration" will pick up at 6 a.m. EDT (1000 GMT) Sunday for the replica's three-hour trip to Space Center Houston. The slow roll will give workers time to clear traffic signals, trees and other obstacles along NASA Parkway (also known as NASA Road 1).
NASA's next generation exploration rovers will join the procession, symbolizing the future of the space shuttle's human spaceflight legacy.
Once the space shuttle mockup is in place outside Space Center Houston, the visitor center will open its parking lot for a free, family-friendly display of space-related exhibits and activities. Guests will also have the opportunity to view the space shuttle mockup at its new home.
The replica will eventually become the star attraction of an educational exhibition themed around the retired space shuttle program. Designed for outdoor display, the mockup is fully-detailed inside and out. Once an access ramp is erected later this year, Space Center Houston visitors will be able to walk through the orbiter to see its crew compartment and inside its payload bay.
Built by Melbourne, Fla.-based aerospace replica manufacturer Guard-Lee, Inc., the mockup is considered to be the highest fidelity model of the shuttle ever created. Built using schematics, blueprints and archived documents lent by NASA and its shuttle contractors, some of the mockup's core parts, including the tires used on its landing gear, are authentic to the shuttle program.
Visit shuttles.collectspace.com for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA's retired space shuttles.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, 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 Space.com 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.