It hasn’t been a year since NASA retired their space shuttle program after a 30-year run that started in 1981. Which is why it isn’t surprising that NASA has announced they will be consigning another part of the space shuttle era to memory lane. This would be one of the two customized Boeing 747 jumbo jet planes that were previously used to carry shuttle aircraft coast-to-coast during their run.
This particular plane enjoyed a run of 386 flights, 66 of these carrying shuttle aircraft from Edwards Air Force Base in California to the main launch site of Cape Canaveral, FL. It was delivered to NASA in 1990, a year after the agency acquired it from Japan Airlines. Its last mission was a simple 20-minute flight from the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, CA to Palmdale, CA, where Dryden runs its aircraft operations.
So what fate awaits this retired carrier and its one-time companion? The retired plane’s spare parts will be used for NASA’s airborne observatory SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), which was launched in 2010. As for the active carrier, it will be used as transport for several shuttle orbiters that were previously decommissioned by NASA. Its itinerary will originate from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center and will fly these orbiters to different museums across the United States.
It is in some of these museums where NASA’s retired shuttles are displayed permanently for visitors. For instance, the Enterprise now resides at New York’s Intrepid Sea-Air Space Museum, while the Discovery can now be viewed at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center.