NASA Space Shuttles Meet Nose-to-Nose for Final Time

NASA's space shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour pose for nose-to-nose photos
Space shuttles Endeavour (foreground) and Atlantis meet nose-to-nose for the last time outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 16, 2012. (Image credit: Cooper)

Two space shuttles traded places at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Thursday (Aug. 16) for what was planned to be the final multiple shuttle shuffle of the retired program.

Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour paused briefly for nose-to-nose photos as they were moved between the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and orbiter processing facility (OPF) at the Florida spaceport.

Atlantis, which had been parked inside one of the high bays in the 52-story tall VAB since June 29, was moved into the OPF to complete its transformation from a space-worthy shuttle to a museum-safe display. The last of NASA's orbiters to fly into space, Atlantis is scheduled to be delivered to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for its public exhibit on Nov. 2.

Endeavour made the opposite trip, moving from the processing hangar to the empty assembly building, to await its flight to the West Coast, where it is destined for display at the California Science Center. With its museum modifications now complete and its aerodynamic tail cone attached, Endeavour will be flown atop NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) next month. [Gallery: Space Shuttles Trade Spaces]

Hangar hops

Although the Kennedy Space Center has more than one orbiter-sized hangar, the shuttle swap on Thursday was necessary as only one OPF is still open in support of the retired winged spacecraft.

The Boeing Company is moving into Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to support its efforts to build a new space capsule, called the CST-100, to potentially fly American astronauts to the International Space Station.

OPF-1 was closed after Atlantis left for the VAB in June, so it too could be leased for use, though it currently remains without a tenant. Atlantis was instead moved into OPF-2, which was vacated by Endeavour on Thursday.

Atlantis and Endeavour are the last two remaining shuttles at the Kennedy Space Center. Their sister ship, Discovery, was delivered to the Smithsonian for display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia in April.

Space shuttle Atlantis (foreground) faces its younger sister, space shuttle Endeavour as the latter leaves the Orbiter Processing Facility for the last time at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 16, 2012. (Image credit: Cooper)

Departing for displays

Endeavour will be the next one to depart its launch and landing site for the final time.

Ferry flight preparations are expected to get underway on or around Sept. 14 with the rollout of Endeavour to Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility, where it will be mated atop the SCA jumbo jet. Endeavour is targeted to leave Florida on Sept. 17 and arrive in Los Angeles on Sept. 20.

The shuttle carrier aircraft's refueling stops and ceremonial flyovers along the way to California have yet to be publicly announced.

Once on the ground in Los Angeles, Endeavour will spend two weeks at LAX as it is hoisted off the carrier aircraft by crane and loaded onto an overland transporter. The shuttle will then embark on a slow road trip to the California Science Center (CSC), completing the 12-mile journey through the streets of Inglewood and L.A. on Oct. 12-13.

The CSC's new Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion is set to open to the public on Oct. 30.

Atlantis meanwhile, will forgo the 747 ferry flight and instead leave Kennedy atop a wheeled transporter for its short drive to the spaceport's visitor center, where a new $100 million display building is now under construction. Set to be displayed as if it was flying in space again, Atlantis' move on Thursday was expected to be the last time it would roll on its own landing gear wheels.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's Atlantis Exhibit is slated to open to the public in July 2013.

See for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA's retired space shuttles.

Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and Twitter @collectSPACE and editor Robert Pearlman @robertpearlman. Copyright 2012 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.