When I told folks that I would actually be going inside one of the space shuttles – they were surprised. They assumed that this was something that I had done long ago. Up until not too long ago – the shuttles were still taking wing and it was not easy to get to sit inside one of these historic spacecraft. That all changed today. Not only did I get the opportunity to see one of these amazing vehicles from the inside – I got to go inside my personal favorite of the fleet – Endeavour.
Of the three remaining space-flown space shuttles, Endeavour is the youngest, Built primarily from leftover components the orbiter was made to be a replacement for the shuttle Challenger that was lost in 1986. Upon completion of the STS-134 mission in 2011 the orbiter began the process of being decommissioned and readied for her new home at the California Science Center located in Los Angeles, California.
When I arrived at Orbiter Processing Facility-2 (OPF-2) I was pleased to see that NASA’s NASA Flow Director for Orbiter Transition and Retirement, Stephanie Stilson was there. I’ve chatted with Stephanie from time-to-time and interviewed her on a number of occasions. She spoke with AmericaSpace about where the orbiters were currently in their decommissioning process and some of the moments that cause her to pause from her work – and realize the history and the legacy that she is striving to preserve.
As we began touring the exterior of Endeavour, the most interesting feature was the open payload bay. Some 60 feet in length the payload bay, many of the main elements that comprise this structure, the airlock, wiring and KU-band antenna – were all on display.
Images in this presentation provided by Mike Killian and Jeffrey J. Soulliere
Our guide then took us down underneath the payload bay doors. Large metal braces support the bay doors when they are opened on Earth as they are not designed to be open in Earth’s gravity and would buckle under their own weight. On this day Endeavour’s Orbital Maneuvering System or “OMS” pods were removed, as well the Space Shuttle Main Engines or SSMEs. Many of the access ports that provided access to the orbiter during the time when she flew to orbit were open and some of the plumbing that made her tick was clearly visible.
We prepare to enter Endeavour; there is a large white room that leads to the Ingress and Egress hatch. The walls are covered in signatures. From average visitors to world leaders (the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher is one that stands out) there are thousands of names lining the walls. Circling their mission patch are a group of names that are held in the highest regard above the rest however, the crew of STS-107 – the final flight of space shuttle Columbia.
Entering Endeavour’s mid-deck Travis Thompson, an engineer with United Space Alliance, greets us and begins detailing the various components. Strongly-built and with one killer mustache Thompson knows of what he speaks and sounds proud as he describes the orbiter’s various elements. Jay Beason, is similar to Thompson in that he is soft-spoken – but it’s obvious he is very proud of Endeavour. Everyone we met and spoke with pride at what the shuttle program had accomplished.
At the end of the day my knees were killing me from crawling around inside the orbiter. So, naturally, I begin to whine. Mike Killian, a writer, photographer and assistant-editor with AmericaSpace smiled – but said nothing. Alan Walters our senior photographer and technical lead had no reservations about addressing my comments however.
“You sound like a little girl,” he said. I know you’re not actually complaining are you?”
Properly chastised I fell silent, collected my gear and began to reflect on our day. I had sat in the airlock where numerous various shuttle crews had docked with the International Space Station, looked out into the payload bay that had retrieved, repaired and released the Hubble Space Telescope and had a chance to touch a piece of history. It was, in short, an incredibly humbling experience.
When would the U.S. regain the ability to send astronauts into orbit? Would the nation that first stepped foot on another world, combined spacecraft and telescope into one revealing the cosmos as never seen before and formed a partnership of sixteen different nations on-orbit to build a laboratory in space – continue to do the amazing and impossible? Time will tell. In the meantime, I counted myself lucky, I was given the opportunity to say goodbye to an old friend and for that I was extremely grateful.
For More Info: www.nasa.gov
For More Info: www.californiasciencecenter.org/