Space Center Houston Getting KSC Space Shuttle Mockup Hand-Me-Down, Compartment Trainer, New Building

Houston may have missed out on its opportunity to play host to one of the 4 retired orbiters doled out recently by NASA. But it will end up with a space-shuttle-related attraction that jibes well with the Johnson Space Center’s longtime role as a practice and simulation site for training astronauts. Space news website CollectSpace is reporting that Space Center Houston will soon receive the Space Shuttle Explorer, a full-size orbiter mockup currently on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

One advantage of the Explorer over the 4 orbiters Houstonians wanted but couldn’t get (besides not having any layers of space dust to clean off): Visitors will be able to walk through it.


Space Center Houston exhibits manager Paul Spana tells CollectSpace that Explorer explorers will be able to access both the (simulated) flight deck and the (simulated) mid-level deck.

Also coming to Houston, and fitting in with this city’s insufficiently acknowledged role as a handy stand-in for outer space: a compartment trainer originally promised to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. CollectSpace also reports that Space Center Houston plans to construct a new 8,000-sq.-ft. building to house the mock crew cabin and other exhibits focused on the space-shuttle program. Spana says Space Center Houston is also hoping to get its hands on one of the launch pad walkways astronauts used to enter the orbiter, which he’d like to see attached to the trainer.

But the new Space Center facility won’t house Explorer itself. The shuttle mockup will be displayed outdoors in a configuration likely similar to its current one at the KSC Visitor Complex’s Space Shuttle Plaza. The Florida facility is sending the Explorer to Houston to make room for a new facility — to house the actual retired space shuttle Atlantis.

Photos of Explorer, KSC: Bernt Rostad/Wikimedia [license] and TonySt/Wikimedia [license]

8 Comment

  • If Space Center Houston does a good job setting up this exhibit, it could be a very cool attraction. I hope folks in Houston see this for what it is (a great tool for educating kids and the general public about space travel, engineering, NASA history, etc.) and not a “slap in the face” for Houston since we didn’t get a bona fide orbiter.

    Maybe at some point we can get past all the bitching and moaning about who got a shuttle and who didn’t!

  • I’ve walked through it while at KSC, just the cabin was accessible, altho it does serve as a reality check of how small the habitable portions of shuttles really were. While the Explorer hardly oozes the history of one of the real orbiters, Houston should perhaps be happy it got *something* out of this whole debacle. If anything, since it’s no longer going to have a practical use, they should let people walk all through it, such as the cargo bay. Will really make you wonder how they would sometimes fit up to 8 people in that thing for a mission. What would really clinch the deal is attaching/installing one of the SpaceLab modules that were sometimes carried in the cargo bay as well.

  • Odd how once we start finding out just how politics screwed Houston in getting a real shuttle, and now that we have the goods on New York changing the deal on the proposal they won with and now dont have anywhere close to a viable exhibit timeframe, suddenly we get a consolation prize in a shuttle mockup. While I would agree this is better than nothing, I hope people will see it for what it really is, which is a bribe to shut Houston up.

  • Wait. Doesn’t Houston already have a walk-through shuttle inaude? Plus a stage area configured for astronaut actors? What are we gaining here?

  • Personally I would much rather have something that you can walk around in and really learn something from rather than a closed up shuttle you can just gawk at from a distance. Proper staging of this exhibit could be very impressive. Of course Space Center Houston will probably just make another ball pit out of it.

  • Why won’t they let people walk around the real orbiters? Afraid some chinese tourist will get a beat on brand new 70’s technology?

  • Another way to look at it is that we’re getting KSC’s sloppy seconds. If this thing is already there and mounted up doing a great job, why can’t they just keep it in situ and we get a real orbiter?

  • I am a life long Houston resident and an ex NASA JSC contractor. I worked as a computer operator in Mission Control for the first 5 shuttles. I have felt the pain and misery of losing Columbia and Challenger. I will be totally honest, I wish it was a real Space Shuttle for JSC and it totally sucks that we did not get one. With that being said, as soon as I received an email announcing that we were getting the shuttle mock-up I was extremely excited and thankful for KSC’s generosity. I forwarded the email to several friends in the area and it took off like wild fire. Within days I had many emails asking when it was due to arrive and for any updates. I contacted the JSC’s PAO Office and found out that it was originally due here on March 10th but an area from the channel to JSC’s dock would have to be dredged in order to accommodate the tug pushing the barge. Current estimates have pushed the delivery time to some time in July.

    In a time when it seems that only bad news comes out of NASA, this is one of the few positive things. Thousands of NASA employees and contractors, who have dedicated their entire life to the space program, are facing financial ruins and hardship with no hope in the near future. I feel that the mock-up coming to JSC is a ray of hope on an otherwise bleak future. At least it beats a couple seats!

    I have never seen the shuttle take off or land, I have been told that it is an unforgettable event. I have only seen it when it has made a brief stop in Houston and that was nothing less than awe-inspiring!

    I am but one of the many people in Texas anxious for the arrival of the mock-up.