Free Shuttle Artifacts!
The four orbiters are already taken, but thousands more shuttle-related items are still available—at no cost.
- By Mark Betancourt
- AirSpaceMag.com, August 29, 2011
NASA Photo / Houston Chronicle
(Page 2 of 3)
Texas A&M’s Aerospace Engineering department was awarded the Johnson Space Center’s Shuttle Mission Simulator (SMS), partly because several of their alumni had worked with the realistic motion-based trainer used by shuttle astronauts. According to John Valasek, a professor in the department, the simulator will be reassembled and restored to full operational use as both a research and educational tool for the university. "We are committed to preserving and maintaining the SMS in exactly the form it was used for astronaut training,” he says. As of now, the simulator is the only working piece of shuttle program equipment that will remain in Texas.
NASA offers the shuttle artifacts free of charge, but the recipients have to cover the cost of moving them to their new homes. That could add up to a mere $23.40 to ship one insulating tile, or $4 million to disassemble, transport and reassemble Texas A&M’s SMS simulator.
It won’t be cheap to move the Seattle Museum of Flight’s new attraction, either. The Full Fuselage Trainer, or FFT, is as big as a shuttle orbiter and looks identical, aside from having no wings. It weighs 90,000 lbs, but unlike an orbiter, it comes apart.
That’s a huge advantage in exhibiting the trainer for museum-goers, says Curator and Director of Collections Dan Hagedorn. “Unlike the actual orbiters, we’re going to be able to afford access, at least limited access, to the Full Fuselage Trainer,” he says. The Museum of Flight plans to separate the forward crew compartment from the rest of the fuselage, installing a transparent barrier so that visitors can see inside the cockpit, which is identical to the cockpits in the flown shuttle vehicles. The museum also is considering turning the trainer’s cargo bay into a small theater for screening interpretive media, and installing a starry panorama in the museum’s ceiling so that the view through the open cargo bay doors looks and feels like the view spacewalking astronauts would have seen.
The FFT was a crucial element of the shuttle program. Every single shuttle astronaut trained in it, and because it is mostly identical to the orbiters, it was often used to solve sudden in-flight engineering problems from the ground.
Hagedorn, too, was hoping for a flown orbiter. The Museum of Flight had even gone so far as to construct a $12 million, climate-controlled building made especially for housing a space shuttle, in the hope of being awarded one of the four vehicles. But Hagedorn now believes the FFT is a bigger, better catch for his visitors.
“Although they are truly awe-inspiring objects, [the orbiters] sit there in their serene virginity and don’t do anything,” he says. “Whereas [with] the full fuselage trainer, we’re actually going to be able to show people how this thing worked. And we’re very excited about that.”
Brigitte Gruener, a science teacher at Mohawk Elementary in Macomb Township, Michigan, sent away for one of the 4,000 shuttle tiles NASA has allocated so far. When she presented it to her students and asked them what they thought it was, she got answers ranging from a piece of Styrofoam to a piece of glass. Then one student said, “that looks like a piece of the space shuttle.” And so it is.