Shuttle Carrier Aircraft NASA 905 meets its end – and a new beginning
The end of an aircraft’s operational life is rarely pleasant. Most are sold to scrapping companies, which reduce them to spare parts and bricks of aluminum to be recycled later. Others are sent to a boneyard in Arizona to await a similar fate. Thankfully, that won’t be the case for NASA’s famous 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), affectionately known as NASA 905. Having sat almost completely dormant at Ellington Field in Houston since late 2012, the aircraft is now being prepared for one last journey, which is likely the shortest trip she will ever take.
Acquired by NASA in July 1974, the aircraft spent 38 years with the agency, primarily ferrying space shuttle orbiters around the country. Her operational life was deemed complete in the fall of 2012, but her mission wasn’t over just yet.
A joint effort to acquire the Boeing 747 for public display began, with Space Center Houston and Boeing leading the charge. In the spring of 2013, ownership of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft was officially transferred from NASA to Space Center Houston. So began a massive endeavor to make the aircraft Texas’ newest landmark, as the planned exhibit has been dubbed. She will be paired with the full scale orbiter mockup, now known as “Independence”. The mockup, formerly an exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida known as “Explorer”, was transferred to Space Center Houston in the summer of 2012. She currently sits in the parking lot of Space Center Houston as she undergoes restoration. The exhibit will pay tribute to the role NASA 905 played for 35 years and the final time she visited Texas with a space flown orbiter (Endeavour) in September 2012.
Small problem – several miles separate the 747’s Space Center Houston display site and Ellington Field, where she currently sits. That’s where Boeing comes in. The aircraft manufacturing giant has dispatched its Aircraft on Ground (AOG) team to Ellington to do what has never been done before. They are in the middle of putting NASA 905 through a nondestructive disassembly ahead of moving her to Space Center Houston.
To get the SCA where she needs to go, she will have to be taken apart in several ways. Her flight control surfaces must be removed and the fuselage sectioned into three parts, so each can travel through the suburban streets of the Clear Lake area. As of late February, the AOG team has already removed the plane’s vertical stabilizers and the flaps from her massive wings, which will also be taken off. Her massive engines were removed in the fall of 2013 and will be used as spares for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) program, which also uses a Boeing 747.
The roll to Space Center Houston is currently planned for late April. Once at the display site, the AOG team will carefully reassemble the 747 to her original glory. She will receive either retired engines or mockups in place of her old JT9D powerplants and her interior will be refitted as a museum for shuttle fans and AvGeeks past, present and future. The orbiter mockup will be hoisted atop the aircraft and set in place later in 2014. Planned for opening in February 2015, the exhibit will allow future generations to understand what it was like to see a spacecraft mated to the world’s most iconic aircraft for many years to come.
Moeller graduated from Texas Tech University's College of Architecture in 2008 and completed the graduate program in 2011. He covered the refueling stop of space shuttle Discovery at Rick Husband International Airport in 2009 after the orbiter had completed its mission to the International Space Station. Moeller also covered the build up to launch shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-132 in 2010 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Moeller joined Max Q Entertainment in 2009, leading the development of the website as well as document production streamlining, graphics work and aiding video production for missions STS-125 onward.