Historic Images: Two Space Shuttles Together

by Nancy Atkinson on August 16, 2012

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This is a sight that will probably never be seen again: two space shuttles nose-to-nose in the same location. NASA’s space shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis switched locations today at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and met each other for the last time in front of Orbiter Processing Facility 3.

Endeavour was moved from OPF 2 to the Vehicle Assembly Building where it will be housed temporarily until its targeted departure from Kennedy atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft in mid-September. After a stop at the Los Angeles International Airport, Endeavour will move in mid-October to the California Science Center for permanent public display.

Atlantis will undergo preparations for its move to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November, with a grand opening planned for July 2013.

Here’s a look at some other instances when two space shuttles were in close enough proximity to have their pictures taken together:

Space Shuttles Enterprise, left, and Discovery meet nose-to-nose at the beginning of a transfer ceremony at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Thursday, April 19, 2012. Credit: NASA//Paul E. Alers.

This event took place today at the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in April, 2012 as space shuttle Discovery, the first orbiter retired from NASA’s shuttle fleet, met up with its prototype sister, Enterprise as they switch spots. Discovery is now at the Air & Space Museum, while Enterprise headed to New York City’s Intrepid Museum.

This view shows two space shuttles on adjacent Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 pads with the Rotating Service Structures retracted I 1990. STS-35’s Columbia is on Pad A (foreground), while its sister spaceship, Discovery, is beginning preparations for STS-41. Credit: NASA

The first time two space shuttles were ever on the launchpads at the same time was in 1985. Then it was Columbia for STS-61-C and Challenger for the ill-fated STS-51-L. In the 30-year duration of the space shuttle program, having two shuttles on the launchpads at once happened just 17 times.

Space shuttle Atlantis on Launch Pad 39A (left) is accompanied by space shuttle Endeavour on Pad 39B in 2009. This was the final time two shuttles were on launch pads at the same time. Endeavour will stood by in case a rescue mission was necessary during Atlantis' mission to upgrade NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

Space Shuttles Discovery and Endeavour meet for a nose-to-nose encounter of gaping holes at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 11, 2011. The two NASA shuttles shorn of spaceflight maneuvering capability swapped locations to continue the transition to retirement and public display at museum in Virginia and California respectively. Credit: Mike Deep for Universe Today.

Another view of the same meetup, Discovery (right) and Endeavour paused for a unique nose-to-nose photo opportunity before going their separate ways outside Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at the Kennedy Space Center on August 11, 2011. Credit: NASA

This event never really happened, thankfully. This is a slide from a NASA presentation showing how a shuttle rescue mission would work. Credit: NASA

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Kevin Frushour August 16, 2012 at 9:29 PM

(Re: the closeup, Aug. 11, 2011 image above)

Tarps covering the engine blocks? People standing around? Two worn out, rusty overused vehicles? This must have been taken in a Walmart parking lot!

Aqua4U August 16, 2012 at 10:05 PM

An obituary? Dang.. they were such awesome if not audacious machines. Too bad they were so expensive to fly, and dangerous! Will there ever be a safe way to get on orbit? Probably not in our lifetimes. The good news is that the main engines and other components (Parts of the OMU’s) will be reused in the next gen. rocket(s). Other good news includes building the ISS and what they did for international relations… legacy time! I for one miss them already… sad.. but full of hope~

Aqua4U August 16, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Back in the late 70′s.. I worked on pressure regulators for atmospherics and the Ku band radar used in the shuttles. Now I feel old….

Mike August 17, 2012 at 3:26 AM

That is really cool to see.

Chetan Chauhan August 17, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Why don’t people just get over the shuttles. They weren’t very safe , cost way too much and had a too long turnaround time.
SpaceX and roskosmos that the heat-shield based VTOL approach has a much lower TCO, are safer and are very functional for the entire purpose – to put people into space.

Jeffrey Scott Boerst August 17, 2012 at 6:18 PM

They should have left the two alone in a hanger overnight and then maybe we’d have a new reusable offspring vehicle….. lol!

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