Atlantis makes familiar trip one more time


Posted: June 29, 2012

Mere minutes after the Delta 4-Heavy rocket's thunderous roar reverberated across Florida's Space Coast on its successful trek to space Friday morning, the retired space shuttle Atlantis made a brief appearance outdoors as she moved from the hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Looking almost like she was headed for another spaceflight, now fitted with three main engines, the nose thruster piece and twin rocket pods on the tail, Atlantis' transfer proved looks can be deceiving. The engines are replicas, the maneuvering pods are only shells and the spaceplane is going to the VAB to sit in storage for six weeks.

The shuffle was necessary so technicians can move forward with shutting down Orbiter Processing Facility bay 1 that had housed Atlantis.

"The reason we're bringing Atlantis over to the Vehicle Assembly Building is we need to free up OPF bay 1 because we're going through the process of safing, securing and being able to transition that facility over to a future customer. We have a schedule to have that work done by the end of the year, so by moving Atlantis over the VAB allows us to do work that cannot be done with a vehicle in the bay," said Stephanie Stilson, NASA's manager of all the orbiters' retirement activities.

The so-called "rollover" in NASA-speak began at 9:15 and was completed at 10:05 a.m. EDT.

Sistership Endeavour is inside the neighboring OPF bay 2 finishing preparations for ferryflight to Los Angeles and delivery to the California Science Center.

Plans call for the two spaceships to swap locations in mid-August, with Endeavour going to the VAB to await departure for California in September and Atlantis resuming her display preps at the OPF in advance of handover to the KSC Vistor Complex final resting place in early November.

Work left to be accomplished on Endeavour in the coming few weeks include installing the three replica main engines and making the orbiter's crew module look that way it did on the final flight last year, Stilson said.

For Atlantis, work is nearly complete for her transition to museum display piece.

"Atlantis is fully safed at this point in time. The only work remaining is display work, putting the final touches on it that's going to make it look the way the visitor center wants it to," Stilson said.

"The visitor center wants to show an airlock inside the midbody. They don't have an airlock, NASA retained the airlock for future use. So Delaware North, the contractor for the visitor center, is going mock up an airlock and we're going to have to install that," Stilson said. "Then on the outside of the vehicle, we just recently installed the replica main engines...and we need to close out the area around the engines and get the outside of the vehicle looking like it just landed."

The 76-wheeled Orbiter Transport System will be used to haul Atlantis down the road to the Visitor Complex where a new building is being constructed to show off the spacecraft. Since the museum will display the orbiter in a manner depicting the vehicle in orbit, the landing gear won't be deployed.

See our coverage from Atlantis' final mission.

Photo credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now

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