This week's installations mark the latest milestone in the six-month mission to assemble the permanent exhibit for Endeavour, the last space shuttle orbiter ever built. When completed, it will be arranged in a full stack configuration as if it were ready for launch. It will be the only surviving U.S. orbiter displayed in this position.
Typically, during the era of space shuttle flights, this procedure would've been done at NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There, the shuttle's full stack would've been assembled in one of the largest buildings by volume in the world, rising more than 50 stories and equipped with plenty of cranes and platforms from which to work.
At the California Science Center, crews had to develop unique techniques for the installation. This week, workers put together scaffolding along the aft skirts so they could get where they needed to insert the connecting pins.
If the aft skirt and solid rocket motors didn't align correctly, every pin could've taken some banging and pounding to insert, and the installation of each rocket could've taken all day and into the night.
Instead, Tuesday's work began around 9 a.m. and ended before 1 p.m. With one successful installation under their belts, workers were even quicker Wednesday—beginning at 8 a.m. and wrapping up by 10.
"The crew worked really well, did an excellent job and things came together effectively and quite quickly," Rudolph said.
The next step will be to build another 30 vertical feet of scaffolding to install external tank attach rings, which eventually will serve as a connection between the solid rocket motors and the giant orange external tank.
Later, even more scaffolding will rise to the top of the 116-foot solid rocket motors. That will help workers install the tips of the rockets, known as the forward assembly, which includes the nose cone and forward skirt.
The forward skirt is particularly important as it will be the primary weight-bearing connection between the solid rocket boosters and the external tank. It is likely to be installed in early December.
The most dramatic installations will take place after the winter holidays. The external tank will be lifted into place no sooner than early January.
The Endeavour orbiter will be installed no earlier than the last week of January. Cranes—the tallest of which will be about the height of Los Angeles City Hall—will raise Endeavour from its horizontal position to point vertically to the stars for its final display. The rest of the museum will then be built around it.
Once complete, the $400 million Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will rise 20 stories tall. The California Science Center Foundation is still raising funds for the last $50 million needed for the project.
Since Endeavour's arrival at the center in 2012, the orbiter has been on display in the temporary Samuel Oschin Pavilion, essentially a warehouse, where it will be shown until Dec. 31. After that, it could be years before Endeavour will again be available for up-close viewing.
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