The space shuttle the right way up!

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747 SCA - shuttle - crane
A gantry is used so that the space shuttle can be placed on the back of its 747 carrier at Edwards Air Base in California.
Credit: NASA

Florida’s subtropical weather can be unpredictable and it is not unusual for storms or heavy showers to prevent a space shuttle from landing at the Kennedy Center. In such cases, the Edwards Air Force Base in California greets NASA’s space plane as in recent circumstances for STS-128 (on rare occasions White Sands in New Mexico do the honours). The journey back to Florida then takes place on the back of a Boeing 747. The American Agency has two such former jetliners which it has modified to this rather special form of transportation. Using a gantry, the space shuttle is first of all lifted, and the carrier aircraft then moves underneath so that it can take it on its back. The Kennedy Center has a similar structure for carrying out the reverse operation.

shuttle - humor
Space travel joke: Written on the space shuttle’s docking mountings are the words “Attach orbiter here - Note: black side down”.
Credit: NASA - Rob Elliot - Enjoy Space (layout)

It is not difficult to imagine the long lists of procedures that the extremely solemn and serious engineers and technicians have to scrupulously follow in order to “mate” a space shuttle and its 747 SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft). Solemn and serious? Go on, twist your head around and look at the photographs; the astronautics industry does have a sense of humour you know. The supports to which the orbiter (another name for the space shuttle*) is docked bear the following inscription: “Attach orbiter here - Note: black side down”! The term “black side” obviously designates the belly of the space plane covered with thermal protection tiles of the same colour. You never know, in a moment of carelessness, the personnel at the Edwards Base could make a mistake and mount the space shuttle upside down if they did not have this text as a reminder...

In this Enjoy Space News in Brief, you can watch Discovery on the back of its 747 SCA taking off and landing.

(*) Theoretically speaking, the term space shuttle refers to the space plane (or orbiter, as it orbits the Earth), the external fuel tank and the two EAP solid rocket boosters. But, space shuttle is also commonly used to mean just the orbiter on its own.
Published on 22 September 2009

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