NASAs Navy tows Discoverys Last Rocket Boosters into Port Canaveral – Photo Album

by Ken Kremer on March 3, 2011

Freedom Star tows Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) from Discovery’s final flight: STS-133
NASA’s Solid Rocket Booster Retrieval Ship - Freedom Star - tows one of Discovery’s spent SRB's from splashdown point in the Atlantic Ocean into the entrance of Port Canaveral on its journey to Hangar AF at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Seagulls help guide NASA’s Navy into port. Credit: Ken Kremer
Photo album below

As the Space Shuttle program quickly winds down, one of the lesser known facts is that the public can get a free bird’s eye view of the ocean retrieval of the mighty Solid Rocket Boosters which power the orbiters majestic climb to space. All you have to do is stand along the canal of Port Canaveral, Florida as the rockets float by on their journey to a processing hanger at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

And if you own a boat you can sail right along side for the thrilling ride as the boosters are towed by ship from the Atlantic Ocean into the entrance of Port Canaveral. It’s the same route traveled by the humongous cruise ships setting sail for distant ports on Earth.

NASA’s Navy has recovered the twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB’s) used during space shuttle Discovery’s final flight. See my photo album above and below.

The two SRB’s and associated flight hardware are retrieved after they splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean following every shuttle launch by the NASA owed ships named Freedom Star and Liberty Star.

Discovery SRB in tow in the Atlantic Ocean by Freedom Star Retrieval Ship. Credit: Ken Kremer

Freedom Star and Liberty Star are stationed about 10 miles from the impact area at the time of splashdown. The ships then sail to the SRB splashdown point and divers are deployed to attach tow lines, haul in the parachutes used to slow the descent and install dewatering equipment.

Each vessel tows one SRB all the way from the Atlantic Ocean into Port Canaveral and then through the locks to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After the spent segments are decontaminated and cleaned, they will be transported to Utah, where they will be refurbished and stored, if needed.

Discovery SRB in tow past a flock of birds at Atlantic Ocean entrance to Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer

The unique ships were specifically designed and constructed to recover the SRB’s. The SRB’s separate from the orbiter about two minutes after liftoff. They impact in the Atlantic about seven minutes after liftoff and some 100 nautical miles downrange from the launch pad off the Florida coastline.

The STS-133 mission was launched from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 24 on Discovery’s 39th and last space flight. Landing is slated for March 8 at 11:36 a.m. at KSC.

The all veteran six person crew has successfully attached the Leonardo storage module and completed two space walks. Leonardo is packed with the R2 humanoid robot and tons of science gear, spare parts, food and water.

Photo album: Recovery and Retrieval of Solid Rocket Boosters from Space Shuttle Discovery’s final flight to space on STS-133 mission.

Close up of forward segments of SRB in tow minus the nose cap which separates at 2.5 nautical miles altitude and releases a parachute. Lighthouse in the background. Credit: Ken Kremer

Freedom Star - NASA’s Solid Rocket Booster Retrieval Ship. Credit: Ken Kremer

Pleasure boats navigate for birds eye view alongside water retrieval of the shuttles Solid Rocket Boosters in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer

Rear view to SRB Aft Skirt from the Jetty Park Pier at Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer

Onlookers fish from rocky outcrops as SRB’s - which generate 3 million pounds of liftoff thrust - float by on a gorgeous afternoon in sunny Florida. What an incredible sight ! Credit: Ken Kremer

Liberty Star with SRB alongside in hip tow position in Port Canaveral. Frustrum of a forward aft skirt assembly is visible on deck of Liberty Star at left. Credit: Ken Kremer

Close up of Frustrum of a forward aft skirt SRB assembly on deck of Liberty Star in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA’s Freedom Star and Liberty Star Solid Rocket Booster Retrieval Ships
docked in Port Canaveral. Both of NASA’s SRB retrieval ships are pictured here with boosters alongside. Credit: Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer at tow back of Discovery’s SRB’s by NASA’s Retrieval Ship Freedom Star. Credit: Urijan Poerink


Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC,, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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