RoundupReads Go big or go home—the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft is doing both, and more, April 28 to 30

Go big or go home—the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft is doing both, and more, April 28 to 30

The space shuttle orbiter mock-up has been a lonesome bird at Space Center Houston, Johnson Space Center’s official visitor center, waiting for its permanent piggyback ride atop NASA 905. But at the end of April, that wait will finally be over as NASA’s oldest modified commercial airliner, a Boeing 747 dubbed NASA 905, makes its way through Clear Lake with all the nonchalance of a rhinoceros performing ballet.
Despite the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft’s (SCA’s) sheer size and the logistical challenges that come with moving an airliner through roadways where cars—many, many cars—typically inhabit, Space Center Houston and its partners are not going through this exercise blind. For one, they’ve done this similar merry dance through the streets with the shuttle orbiter mock-up from Kennedy Space Center just last year. And two, they have a plan—a very extensive plan.

Big Move Fact Sheet: Move Fact Sheet.pdf
I’ve got the moves like SCA
Space Center Houston is finalizing plans for community and media activities associated with “The Big Move” of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 747 from Ellington Field to Space Center Houston during the span of a mere three days, April 28 to 30, and two nights, April 28 to 29.
For the big shebang, NASA 905 will be broken into various segments to form a 1,000-foot convoy, which will move at the breakneck speed of a human walk as it goes through nearly eight miles of city and state roadways to Space Center Houston. Roads will close in stages so city workers and utility providers can dismantle streetlights, signs and utility poles as the convoy approaches, and will re-open after it passes (see route map). Obviously, this impressive event will draw significant attention—the most stunning intact piece, perhaps, being the fuselage, measuring 25 feet wide, 35 feet high and more than 180 feet long. It will travel on a Goldhofer multi-wheeled, self-propelled trailer.
If it takes a village to raise kids, it takes multiple partnerships working in sync to conduct a move of this magnitude. More than 25 private, public and government organizations are partnering for this momentous occasion, and many graciously offered their services at little to no cost.
But it’s all for a worthwhile cause: an educational mission unlike any other.
No rest in retirement
When the SCA joins the orbiter mock-up, it will be reassembled to create a whole new exhibit experience showing the pair in a piggyback formation. An early 2015 opening is envisioned for the attraction, and the exhibit will allow visitors to walk through both the SCA and the orbiter mock-up.
Space Center Houston sees 750,000 visitors annually, and those people will get to learn about Johnson Space Center’s role in developing life-support hardware and other technologies crucial to the future of space exploration, as well as in supporting former shuttle operations.
“We want to make it current and bring our guests into the future,” said Space Center Houston Director of Education Melanie Johnson.
The coming attraction will accommodate individual, self-guided guests in small groups, as well as classrooms and youth organization tours, and possibly even sleepovers.
Showcasing the seemingly impossible
More than 30 years ago, NASA’s space shuttle fleet introduced reusability to human spaceflight, a historic step that brought with it special challenges. The program had to figure out a way to transport the massive winged orbiters, weighing in at around 176,000 pounds or more, across the country.
Early options included equipping the orbiters with robust jet engines to extend their range during descent to Earth—or placing them aboard ships for seafaring excursions from the West to East Coast through the Panama Canal.
All those options were scratched, however, in favor of the SCA and the distinctive piggyback rides that came along with them. NASA 905 will be the centerpiece of the $12 million, six-story public display—and it’s all coming to a major road artery near you starting April 28.
For timely updates on “The Big Move,” check out:

Catherine Ragin Williams
NASA Johnson Space Center
NASA 905 readies for its daunting "big move" at Ellington Field. Image courtesy of Space Center Houston.
Space Shuttle Discovery mated with SCA NASA 905 during a flight from Kennedy Space Center with pilot Richard C. Clark. Image Credit: NASA/Sheri Dunnette Locke
The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft Experience exhibit concept. Image courtesy of Space Center Houston.