Two Shuttles on the Pad — The Last Time

It’s a rare event anyway, but this is the last time ever. Two shuttles are now sitting on NASA’s two launchpads at Kennedy Space Center. Space shuttle Endeavour completed a 4.2-mile journey to Launch Pad 39B Friday morning, Sept. 19, at 6:59 a.m. EDT, and this is the first time a shuttle has stood by as a rescue vehicle. Atlantis, over at Pad 39A is preparing for its mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, currently scheduled for Oct. 10 (although there might be an problem with that date –see below). Since Atlantis won’t be going to the International Space Station which would be a “safe haven” in the event of an emergency, Endeavour will stand by in the unlikely event a rescue mission is necessary. After Endeavour is cleared from its duty as a rescue vehicle, it will move to Launch Pad 39A for the upcoming STS-126 mission to the International Space Station. That flight is targeted for launch Nov. 12. This Saturday, there will be a good photo op as the Rotating Service Structures for Endeavour will be rolled back, making both the shuttles more visible. Robert Pearlman at has a full list of the 17 times in history two shuttles sat on the launchpads, and some great pictures, too.

A small glitch occurred this week in preparing for the Hubble servicing mission. Trouble with a cleaning system connected to a canister housing fresh batteries and a new camera bound for the Hubble Space Telescope somehow blew insulation into protective bagging around the cargo carrier.. Work to inspect and clean the canister will delay its delivery to the shuttle Atlantis at launch pad 39A by at least 24 hours. While a corresponding launch delay is possible, NASA is sticking with its current Oct. 10 launch target until managers get a better sense of how much lost time can be made up.

And for those you that have questions as to why Endeavor will be moved to 39A, its because that pad is being prepared for being able to launch the Ares rockets for the upcoming Constellation program. It will work in a pinch to launch the shuttle, but NASA officials would much rather launch it from 39A to avoid any problems. And even if the shuttle program is extended in order to shorten the gap between the time the shuttle flights end and Constellation begins, shuttles will probably not launch from 39B again.

If you missed seeing Endeavour’s crawl out to the pade, video file of rollout will be available on NASA Television.

15 Replies to “Two Shuttles on the Pad — The Last Time”

  1. Would a damaged shuttle be abandoned in orbit or be plunged and burned up in the atmosphere? Could it be brought back remotely? What optional actions would a rescue operation include?

  2. Thank you for the clarification about why it’s necessary to move around Endeavour. Still think it’s silly, but at least there’s some sorta rationalisation of it.

  3. @ dollhopf
    Yes, I read in an article somewhere that the Flight Director said that once a rescue mission was deemed necessary, then Atlantis would have to be burned up in the atmosphere. Not sure about umanned landing. I dont think leaving it up in orbit is an option due to possible danger as space junk to future missions.

    He also said that once a rescue mission was called for, it would take about 5-6 days to launch Endeavour – regarding fueling up maybe and he described how the astronauts would float in space suits from Atlantis to Endeavour.

    I hope a rescue isn’t called cause then we’ll be down to only 2 shuttles.

  4. Can anyone say with certainty if two shuttles have EVER been simultaneously on pads (i.e., date, STS numbers, not just a guess)? I’ve followed the program pretty closely since the beginning and I think this is the first time.

  5. “I hope a rescue isn’t called cause then we’ll be down to only 2 shuttles.”

    >I’d say if a rescue mission was necessary, no shuttles would ever fly again, period. So it’d be a bit academic how many shuttles were left…

  6. Well, FWIW, it’s NASA itself that says this is the first time since July 2001 there are two shuttles on the pads.

    I don’t know what to make of it, since STS-104 went up in July 12, wereas STS-105 was the next mission, having taken off almost a month later, in August 10. I know that the shuttle usualy remains for a while in the pad, but one full month?

    They do say it, though. See:

  7. Thanks, Jorge. With your help and a little more research, I’ll answer my own question. STS-104 and 105 were both on pads from 2 Jul 2001 (105 roll out) til 12 Jul 2001 (104 launch).

  8. hello Jahmin,

    “the astronauts would float in space suits from Atlantis to Endeavour”

    That should be a protracted activity until the last one can switch out the light and enter the small pressure chamber.

  9. @Mike
    I don’t know if they’re taking the RCO IFM cable with them or not. But, I think the main reasons a rescue would be deemed necessary would be damaged caused during liftoff to the tiles, which means chance of successful reentry goes down. But, I’m with you, saying, ok, get the astronauts back in the rescue shuttle and then why not still try and remote land Atlantis, just in case luck’s on our side and it’s a good landing…

    Well, now we’ll have to wait till next year.

  10. The following list details when both pads have simultaneously hosted space shuttles.

    STS-61-C (Columbia) and STS-51-L (Challenger)
    Dec. 22, 1985 (rollout of 51-L to Pad B) to Jan. 12, 1986 (launch of 61-C from Pad A)

    STS-31 (Discovery) and STS-35 (Columbia)
    April 22, 1990 (rollout of STS-35 to Pad A) to April 24, 1990 (launch of STS-31 from Pad B)

    STS-35 (Columbia) and STS-41 (Discovery)
    Sep. 4, 1990 (rollout of STS-41 to Pad B) to Oct. 6, 1990 (launch of STS-41 from Pad B)

    STS-38 (Atlantis) and STS-35 (Columbia)
    Oct. 14, 1990 (rollout of STS-35 to Pad B) to Nov. 15, 1990 (launch of STS-38 from Pad A)

    STS-37 (Atlantis) and STS-39 (Discovery)
    April 1, 1991 (rollout of STS-39 to Pad A) to April 5, 1991 (launch of STS-37 from Pad B)

    STS-45 (Atlantis) and STS-49 (Endeavour)
    March 13, 1992 (rollout of STS-49 to Pad B) to March 24, 1992 (launch of STS-45 from Pad A)

    STS-50 (Columbia) and STS-46 (Atlantis)
    June 11, 1992 (rollout of STS-46 to Pad B) to June 25, 1992 (launch of STS-50 from Pad A)

    STS-56 (Discovery) and STS-55 (Columbia)
    Feb. 7, 1993 (rollout of STS-55 to Pad A) to April 8, 1993 (launch of STS-56 from Pad B)

    STS-64 (Discovery) and STS-68 (Endeavour)
    Aug. 19, 1994 (rollout of STS-64 to Pad B) to Aug. 24, 1994 (rollback to VAB of STS-68 from Pad A)

    STS-71 (Atlantis) and STS-70 (Discovery)
    May 11, 1995 (rollout of STS-70 to Pad B) to June 8, 1995 (rollback to VAB of STS-70 from Pad B)

    STS-71 (Atlantis) and STS-70 (Discovery)
    June 15, 1995 (rollout of STS-70 to Pad B) to June 27, 1995 (launch of STS-71 from Pad A)

    STS-70 (Discovery) and STS-69 (Endeavour)
    July 6, 1995 (rollout of STS-69 to Pad A) to July 13, 1995 (launch of STS-70 from Pad B)

    STS-69 (Endeavour) and STS-73 (Columbia)
    Aug. 28, 1995 (rollout of STS-73 to Pad B) to Sept. 7, 1995 (launch of STS-69 from Pad A)

    STS-73 (Columbia) and STS-74 (Atlantis)
    Oct. 12, 1995 (rollout of STS-74 to Pad A) to Oct. 20, 1995 (launch of STS-73 from Pad B)

    STS-95 (Discovery) and STS-88 (Endeavour)
    Oct. 21, 1998 (rollout of STS-88 to Pad A) to Oct. 29, 1998 (launch of STS-95 from Pad B)

    STS-103 (Discovery) and STS-99 (Endeavour)
    Dec. 13, 1999 (rollout of STS-99 to Pad A) to Dec. 19, 1999 (launch of STS-103 from Pad B)

    STS-104 (Atlantis) and STS-105 (Discovery)
    July 2, 2001 (rollout of STS-105 to Pad A) to July 12, 2001 (launch of STS-104 from Pad B)

  11. Thank you so much for this article & picture. I have loved & supported the Shuttle Program from the word go & I will miss it very much. I know progress is important & I hope that progress is made, for all our sakes.
    Thanks to all who are now working & have worked on the Shuttle program over the years. You’ve added a lot of ‘magic’ & ‘dreams’ to my life.
    Best of luck with all of your endeavors.

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