Two Shuttles, nose to nose

By Phil Plait | August 11, 2011 2:00 pm

Here’s something you don’t see every day.. or will ever again: two Space Shuttle Orbiters, nose to nose:

[Click to enspaceplanate.]

The two Orbiters, Discovery and Endeavour, are seen here outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Both are being cleaned up and prepped to be shipped (or, more properly, flown) to museums; Discovery to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

[UPDATE: Here’s a shot of the two Orbiters seen from the air!

Very, very cool.]

I expect at some point I’ll pay these ladies a visit. Discovery and I have a connection — it took a camera I worked on up to Hubble back in 1997 — and it’ll be interesting, if also a touch melancholy, to see them up close.

Image credit: NASA

Related posts:

Where the Shuttles will come to rest
Deconstructing Discovery
The fiery descent of Atlantis… in 3D!
Atlantis, one last time in the Sun


Comments (36)

  1. kurtjmac

    Being one of the lucky Juno NASATweetup attendees, I got to visit Discovery up-close and personal as she was parked in the VAB last week. It is a bit sad seeing a shuttle in this “neutered” state, missing the main engines, OMS pods and front nose. I sure hope they don’t clean them up before sending them to the museums, having the burnt and charred panels is part of their workhorse charm!

  2. Charlie Kilian

    I plan on seeing all four of the extant orbiters up close someday. And yet, I am sure that when I finally do, it will be with just a touch of sadness. True, they didn’t live up to their expectations and promises, but still, what incredible machines.

    Being born in 1978 as I was, the shuttles are mine in a way the Saturn rockets never were.

  3. Robin

    From the Saturn V museum at KSC, I saw Discovery launch (STS-105) in August 2001. The memory of the launch is seared into my brain. I was certainly dumbstruck, and didn’t speak more than a handful of words to the friend I was with the rest of the day.

    That would have been enough to make a top experience of a lifetime, but I got two more cherries two days before the Shuttle launch: I saw the Genesis probe launch and went on a tour our to the foot of the ramp that led up to Discovery’s launch pad 39A.

    Despite all their warts, despite not being able to go beyond LEO, and despite the tragedies we saw, the Shuttles were amazing machines, veritable Great Wonders of Engineering and Imagination.

  4. The thruster sides are way cooler.
    When I read the headline I thought about the end of Requiem for a Dream. Dirty mind.

  5. Josie

    They have the look of newly released POW’s :(

    @Skepgineer: me too

  6. Ben

    Actually, you will see this again in October and probably again a few months after that. They will continue to switch places every few months until the first one, Discovery, heads for DC in April.

  7. Nic

    I find it sad to see these ladies retire. There was a nice pic years back when 39A&B were both occupied, both ships ready to fly! Sorry it is like seeing a guitar in a glass case – not right. Sure I know the reasons but so sad to see such icons of the space age retiring.


  8. Floyd

    Somehow, I anthropomorphized the two Shuttles as talking “Lemme up there, we can still be contenders…”

    We need new replacements for the Shuttles–more, better, safer, faster versions. I’m still thinking about the visions in “2001, A Space Odyssey.”

  9. They look so sad with the OMS pods and SSMEs removed. And is that duct tape holding a tarp on the nose of Endeavor?

  10. Michael

    Anyone know how long these grand dames of space will be parked at Kennedy? I’m going to be there in a couple of weeks, would love to see them (even if it is from a distance on the tour).

  11. Jonathan Latimer

    I think an appropriate pilgrimage will be to see each of the Orbiters in their final homes. I was fortunate enough to see Atlantis on her final launch — it would be great to see her again, safely on the ground after her last successful mission. Sure, I know she’s safe — but to really KNOW it, I think seeing her up close would do that.

    My essay about witnessing the Atlantis launch can be found here, if anyone is interested.

    Thanks, as always, BA.


  12. We’ll have to have a DC tweetup when you visit Discovery!
    I’ll drive up! I can bring along a couple solar telescopes & turn it into a star party!

    Ya know what? I’ll bet it’ll fly right over here in April as it heads up there!
    Gotta get the whole UVa astronomy community out to see that!
    Keep us informed of the ferry flights, Phil!

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    Sad sight really – remarkable though.

    The two Orbiters, Discovery and Endeavour, are seen here outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Both are being cleaned up and prepped to be shipped (or, more properly, flown) to museums

    Flown? If only!

    Imagines these orbiters launching, flying on their own and landing at their final destinations one last time. If only they could.

    We’ll never see the Space Shuttles fly again. I find that sad. :-(

    I find it sadder yet that better, more capable, upgraded replacements for them aren’t flying already. :-(

    I grew up with the Space Shuttles. As a young boy one of my first memories is watching an early launch attempt for the very first Columbia flight when this then all-white spaceplane was The Future and Science Fiction coming to life. Now decades later I have seen the last launch on the news as well and then observed the Atlantis pass overhead while on its – and the Space Shuttles – final ever descent from home. With so many missions and memories in between those moments.

    I never would have imagined the Space Shuttle program would end this way. For all their faults and despite not quite living up to expectations they were the one of the wonders of the modern world and – after the Saturn V-Apollo spacecraft vehicles – the most remarkable thing human minds have ever designed and human hands ever built and flown.

  14. John

    Seeing this reminds me of when I was in grade school- I thought having a double shuttle mission would be the coolest thing ever. Actually- I still do, that would have been awesome.

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    The Space Shuttles have provided us all with so much joy, so much science, so much over 135 missions all but two landing safely and successfully and delivering what they promised.

    This :

    & this :

    & this :

    is how I’ll remember them. How I think we can best remember these technological marvels. :-)

    Not that sorrowful image of them being retired on the tarmac and grounded forever. :-(

    Perhaps in ten or twenty or thirty years time we can get all the retired orbiters together somewhere for an anniversary reunion. ūüėČ

    Wonder where we’ll be by then and whether any progress will have been made in human space exploration and development then? Also who will have made such progress?

  16. dude

    they look so battered. oh well, a museum is more dignified than a glue factory.

  17. Robin

    I can’t remember all the details provided for the museums/displays where the shuttles will end up, but hopefully they will be inside so they won’t weather and deteriorate like some Saturns and Skylab mockups elsewhere. These should be housed in places with a commitment toward respecting their history and accomplishments and a commitment toward aggressive long term preservation. The Saturn V museum at KSC is an example of that idea. Imagine a museum that has indoors not only a Shuttle but also an external fuel tank and two SRB’s. Such a display would give a proper sense of the size, power, and complexity of what it required to get a shuttle to orbit.

  18. stjobe

    Slightly off-topic, but while you’re there at the Udvar-Hazy Center, don’t miss the other good stuff they have on display. I made a trip there especially to see their SR-71 Blackbird (the most beautiful aircraft in the world, in my humble opinion), and was impressed with the quality of their displays. I have to admit it was kind of a strange feeling to see Enola Gay in real life, though. Mixed emotions.

    As for spacey stuff, they have – among a lot of other cool stuff – the Gemini VII capsule, and an engineering prototype of the Mars Pathfinder Lander.

  19. Chris

    Is it just me or do they need a good washing?

  20. QuietDesperation

    Just don’t let one start sniffing the other’s exhaust. Before you know it we’ll have a whole bunch of little shuttles to feed.

  21. icewings

    NASA needs to invest in some touch-up paint and Turtle Wax.

  22. Tom Callahan

    So who are the lucky people who get to park their cars next to a space shuttle…

  23. Calli Arcale

    Messier Tidy Upper:

    The two Orbiters, Discovery and Endeavour, are seen here outside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Both are being cleaned up and prepped to be shipped (or, more properly, flown) to museums

    Flown? If only!

    Yes, they will be flown, on the back of one of the two modified 747s that have served the Shuttle program since the 1970s. As opposed to being shipped on a barge or something, which I believe was the point of that comment. They will fly as they always did when moving between facilities.

    And it’s fair to describe them as flying, even if they aren’t wiggling their control surfaces at all. They are inactive while being ferried (sorry, Moonraker) but they have wings which do actually provide lift during the flight. SCA pilots have been known to describe the combined vehicle as “the most sophisticated biplane ever flown”.

    icewings — the Orbiters have been safed following flight; they are not yet prepped for conservation purposes. I think the idea is to preserve a flight-like appearance, so scorching and such will still be there when they’re done. But their appearance will be much improved from the current appearance; in particular, those mylar-covered gaps will be filled with the forward RCS compartment and the OMS pods, all cleaned of hazardous hypergolic residue. And the white circles on the back will be removed and fake SSMEs put in their places. (The real SSMEs aren’t going on display, but are hanging around for engineering use. They’re incredibly valuable engines.)

  24. Ben

    #11 Michael: Unless there is a day such as this when they are being moved, they are always kept indoors so you won’t see them.

  25. Ben

    #24 Tom: They are employees.

  26. Messier Tidy Upper

    @25. Calli Arcale :

    I had kinda figured that much – the Shuttles being flown inactive atop jumbo jets – but thanks for the extra details and info. there. Thanks. :-)

    Yeah, I guess technically they’re being “flown” alright but it’s not the same as them being *flown* under their own steam with pilots at their controls which is what the word conjures up in my mind. Wonder if they could at least do an Enterprise flight test style drop and glide back to their destinations with them? ūüėČ

    Guess not.

    BTW. Could be wrong I suppose, but surely the Space Shuttle Enterprise would have to hold the world record for largest, heaviest and most technologically sophisticated glider ever?

  27. Rod Iron

    What I hope (but seriously doubt) is that we will get to walk through at least ONE of the shuttles when they go on display. I mean what harm could be done since they won’t be using them anymore.

  28. Sweet! I’ll have to pay a visit to Discovery when she gets here! Any idea if the Udvar Hazy Center will be keeping Enterprise?

    edit: Google answered my question. Nope, Enterprise will be going to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.

  29. Dark Jaguar

    Those things sure look run down…

  30. Robin

    They don’t look run down. They look like what a well used and broken-in tool looks like, you know the kind of tool that after a while fits your hand perfectly. They’ve been through quite a few toasty re-entries, and they should be allowed to continue to wear that experience. The discolored tiles? Why, those are badges of honor. Making them look all new and shiny would be like giving them plastic surgery: it’d be a fake look.

  31. James

    Just seeing them with their manuevering rockets and OMS pods removed really drives home that they are never going back up again. Sad sad day.

  32. Nigel Depledge

    Better to see and remember Discovery and Endeavour like this than like Challenger or Columbia, I guess.

  33. Rich

    To those who made or thought comments like ” NASA needs to invest in some touch-up paint and Turtle Wax” or ” Is it just me or do they need a good washing?” you are nuts. The discoloration on some of the areas are badges of honor. Evidence that these crafts were workhorses traveling through some of most difficult areas you can imagine. The wear marks should be displayed proudly.

  34. Jim

    @20 stjobe: Re: SR71 – always a purposeful looking beast. But my vote for most beautiful goes to the North American XB-70 Valkyrie:


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