Space shuttle exhibit

6-1 Artist's rendering

They say that everything is bigger in Texas and that certainly goes for Space Center Houston’s newly announced space shuttle exhibit.

Richard Allen, CEO of Space Center Houston, which serves as the official visitor center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, announced plans at the 8th annual State of the Bay Tourism Address to display its full-size space shuttle mockup atop the historic jumbo jetliner that ferried the real orbiters after their return from space and delivered them to their museum homes.

NASA transferred ownership of its original Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747 jet, to Space Center Houston on May 2, setting in motion the visitor center’s plans to pair the replica shuttle it received last June with the airplane that landed in Houston five months later.

“This is an exciting day for Texans, as we accept the SCA from NASA and assume the awesome responsibility for its modifications, showcasing its legacy and adding a one-of-a-kind experience to our complex,” Allen said. “We look forward to accepting the challenge of raising funds for this amazing endeavor as we prepare for the next phase of this major expansion.”

The new $12 million outdoor complex, named “The Shuttle and 747 Carrier,” is to open to the public in February 2015.

“The Shuttle and 747 Carrier will give visitors the world’s first and only all-access pass to an authentic and realistic journey through the inside of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft as well as an unforgettable experience aboard the full-scale shuttle model,” Space Center Houston said.

“The up close and personal access to American aviation history will reveal the shuttle program’s amazing ingenuity, clever innovation and awe-inspiring complexity.”

An artist’s rendering of the planned exhibit shows the 747 jumbo jet, known by its tail number “NASA 905,” parked outside Space Center Houston, where the shuttle mockup sits today. A gantry-like structure sits next to the air- and spacecraft combo that will provide visitors the opportunity to climb inside both vehicles.

The carrier aircraft is currently at Ellington Field, home to Johnson Space Center’s aircraft operations. To get the aircraft to the visitor center, its wings and tail will be removed, and its fuselage will be sectioned in three.

The jumbo jet is expected to be in place at Space Center Houston by this November. The work to hoist the 130,000-pound (60,000-kilogram) shuttle mockup atop the airplane will follow during the first quarter of 2014.

The shuttle mockup arrived in Houston last summer by barge from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, where it debuted in 1993. Known then by the name “Explorer,” it was designed and built by aerospace replica manufacturer Guard-Lee, Inc. using schematics, blueprints, and archival documents provided by NASA and the shuttle contractors.

Space Center Houston plans The Shuttle and 747 Carrier exhibit to be more than a public attraction, but also serve as the centerpiece for new educational programs to inspire students to consider careers in math and science fields.

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