Just 3 weeks after space shuttle Discovery left Florida for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, sister orbiter Endeavour is readying for one final power up this week – an event which, when the plug is pulled, will mark the final power down of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Nearly a year after launching on her last mission, STS-134, Endeavour is on the brink of reaching a “point-of-no-return” in her retirement transition. Once the vehicle’s cooling systems are drained of all their fluids, Endeavour will not be capable of powering up ever again. All three of NASA’s orbiters had to be powered up throughout their retirement transitions in order to allow technicians to open and close vents and other access points to remove various hazards and toxins such as hypergols, fuels, oxidizers, and ammonia (among others) from the orbiters before they could safely be put on display. Technicians must “de-service” various systems, sometimes even removing systems and hardware all together, in an effort to ensure that there be no chance of any leaks or out-gassing that could be hazardous to the public while the orbiters are on display.
“Since wheel stop we have completed end state safing, decontamination of orbital maneuvering system pods and forward reaction control system, removal of all hazardous commodities, removal of encrypted hardware and hardware which has potential use on future programs,” said Bart Pannullo, NASA Transition and Retirement Vehicle Manager in an emailed statement. “Our next major milestones are to complete final power down, close the payload bay doors and configure the vehicle to meet display site and ferry flight requirements.”
Visit the flight deck of space shuttle Endeavour, powered up, with Rene Arriens – one of the many unsung heroes of the shuttle program. Rene spent the last 30 years working on the STS program in various capacities; spacecraft operator, pad technician, and was even a member of the close-out crew who helped board the astronauts on the shuttle before their historic flights. Video Credit: Mike Killian for ARES Institute and Americaspace
Endeavour was built as a replacement for space shuttle Challenger, and flew her first flight, STS-49, on May 7, 1992. The last of NASA’s shuttles to be built, Endeavour would go on to fly 25 missions from 1992 – 2011, closing out her career with 4,671 orbits of the Earth, 296 days in space, and over 122 million miles travelled. Designated as OV-105 by NASA, or Orbiter Vehicle 105, nearly half of all Endeavour’s missions were ISS construction flights. OV-105 was also the first to service the Hubble Telescope in 1993 and flew various scientific missions such as the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which generated the most complete high-resolution digital topographic database of Earth up until 2009.
Endeavour’s final power down is scheduled for Friday, May 11, 2012. Endeavour’s scheduled May 11 power down will be the last for the shuttle program, as Atlantis has already undergone her final power down and Discovery is already on display at the Smithsonian. The displays, controls, and switches of mankind’s most sophisticated vehicle will go dark, permanently, this Friday.
Endeavour will make her final flight atop a NASA modified 747 shuttle carrier aircraft in the fall; a one-way trip from Kennedy Space Center to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. As of this week, NASA plans to fly Endeavour from Florida to California sometime in September. The logistics involved with moving the orbiter through the city are currently being planned; the shuttle is so big that trees must be cut down, traffic signals and light posts must be removed, and roads will have to be closed to allow for the orbiter to safely pass without damaging itself or other property. Once arrived at LAX, Endeavour will be transported on a pre-determined route through Los Angeles on a day-long trip from the airport to a temporary climate-controlled home at the California Science Center, where the orbiter will go on public display while a permanent Air and Space Center is constructed to the northwest of the museum.
The following gallery of images were taken recently from Endeavour’s flight deck as the orbiter was powered up to allow technicians to remove cryogenics from various systems as they continue to safe the vehicle for public display.
All Photos Credit: Mike Killian and Chase Clark