NASA’s youngest space shuttle orbiter, Endeavour, was rolled out one last time from Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building early Friday morning, beginning the orbiter’s long voyage to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Endeavour began its trek to the shuttle landing facility under cover of darkness, arriving for a date with NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft just as the sun began to rise around 7:00 a.m. EDT.
Using a tow vehicle, workers parked Endeavour in the mate-demate device (MDM) and carefully connected a giant sling to the 170,000 pound orbiter. Endeavour was then raised a few feet off the ground, allowing crews to manually close and lock Endeavour’s landing gear for her upcoming flight.
With the threat of showers and storms looming on the horizon workers wasted no time with the lift operations, raising the orbiter to sixty-feet above the ground in a matter of minutes before parking the 747 underneath it. Once again demonstrating their unique skills, crews carefully lowered Endeavour to within an arm’s reach of the shuttle carrier aircraft and began the task of attaching the orbiter, what NASA calls a ‘soft mate’. Workers will continue to secure the two vehicles firmly together, ‘hard-mating’ the SCA/shuttle vehicle on Saturday to accept the aerodynamic forces they will encounter during next week’s 3-day cross-country flight across the southern U.S.
NASA plans on backing the SCA out on the shuttle landing facility tarmac Sunday morning to allow workers, media, and members of the public visiting Kennedy Space Center a chance to say goodbye to Endeavour up close and personal.
Weather permitting, Endeavour will take to the skies on her final flight shortly after 7:00 a.m. EDT Monday morning, conducting a low flyover up and down Florida’s Space Coast and giving residents a final chance to say goodbye to the orbiter they watched launched on 25 missions over nearly 20 years. Endeavour will then head west towards California, making numerous low-flyovers and stops along the way.
– Click HERE to read about Endeavour’s planned flight to California and the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft making it happen.
- All Photos Credit: Mike Killian and Julian Leek