HOUSTON — The countdown is on for the liftoff of a space shuttle from Houston — and you are invited to take a front row seat.
On Thursday, Aug. 14, Space Center Houston's full-size space shuttle replica, named the "Independence," will be hoisted by crane on top of NASA's historic Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The flight of the 160,000-pound (72,575-kilogram) mockup marks the next milestone toward the 2015 debut of a $12 million, six-story exhibit that will offer visitors the chance to tour inside both the aircraft and orbiter.
"The free event 'Rise of Independence' will mark another chapter in the ongoing story of Space Center Houston's future world-class exhibit," Space Center Houston officials said Wednesday (July 23). [8 Surprising Space Shuttle Facts]
On Friday, the center's president and CEO Richard Allen, assisted by shuttle astronaut Clay Anderson, revealed the "Independence" decal affixed on the side of the vehicle as one of the final touches to be done before the Aug. 14 lift.
Space Center Houston, which serves as the official visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, is inviting the public to witness the shuttle's ascension. A ceremony is scheduled to precede the lift beginning at 7:15 a.m. CDT, followed by the hoist at 8 a.m.
"There is limited viewing available on a first-come, first-served basis," center officials advised.
The "Rise of Independence," which will employ a team of engineers and a 180-foot-tall (55 meter) crane to move the shuttle, is weather-dependent. The lift will be postponed in the event of rain or high winds.
NASA's original Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), known by its tail number NASA 905, was used for 30 years to ferry the orbiters piggyback cross-country. The center's exhibit will replicate this configuration while providing the public an opportunity to explore inside both vehicles.
In addition to seeing the cockpits of both the aircraft and orbiter, new exhibits installed in both will educate guests about the history of the shuttle program.
Independence, which for 19 years was the "Explorer" while on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, has been extensively upgraded to improve and refresh its interior and exterior. Further outfitting will occur once the orbiter mockup is mounted atop the 747 aircraft.
NASA 905, divided into several large parts for transport, arrived at the center in late April. Work to reassemble the jumbo jet has now been finished, though the center is still trying to source two engines to complete the display.
The center is also still fundraising, needing $2.2 million to complete its $12 million "Bring the Legacy Home" capital campaign. Donations can be made through Space Center Houston's website or by texting "Shuttle747" to 41444.
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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.