Stripped Down Discovery rolls towards Retirement at Kennedy Space Center


Space Shuttle Discovery was briefly on public display on Wednesday July 13 as she emerged from the hanger at the Kennedy Space Center where she has been undergoing processing for retirement since her final landing on the STS-133 mission.

It was a rather stark and sad moment because Discovery looked almost naked and downtrodden – and there was no doubt that she would never again fly majestically to space because huge parts of the orbiter were totally absent.

Discovery was stripped bare of her three main engines and orbital maneuvering pods at the rear and she had a giant hole in the front, just behind the nose, that was covered in see through plastic sheeting that formerly housed her now missing forward thrusters. Without these essential components, Discovery cannot move 1 nanometer.

When the Space Shuttle is forcibly retired in about a week, America will have no capability to launch astronauts into space and to the International Space Station for many many years to come.

Discovery was pulled a quarter mile from the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to make room for Space Shuttle Atlantis when she returns next week from the STS-135 mission, according to Stephanie Stilson, the flow manager for Discovery, in an interview with Universe Today.

Stephanie Stilson,NASA KSC flow manager for Discovery. Credit: Ken Kremer

STS-135 is the 135th and final mission of NASA’s 30 year long Space Shuttle Program.

NASA now only has control of two of the three shuttle OPF’s since one OPF has been handed over to an unnamed client, Stilson said.

Stilson is leading the NASA team responsible for safing all three Space Shuttle Orbiters. “We are removing the hypergolic fuel and other toxic residues to prepare the orbiters for display in the museums where they will be permanently housed.”

“The safing work on Discovery should be complete by February 2012,” Stilson told me. “NASA plans to transport Discovery to her permanent home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on April 12, 2012, which coincides with the anniversary of the first shuttle launch on April 12, 1981.”

Discovery Photo Album by Ken Kremer

Discovery emerges from OPF 2 processing hanger. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery exits OPF 2 minus main engines. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery moves from OPF 2 to VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery moves from OPF 2 to VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery on public display on Wednesday July 13. Credit: Ken Kremer
Below Discovery’s wing. Credit: Ken Kremer
Gaping hole in Discovery - minus forward reaction control thruster. Credit: Ken Kremer
Rear view of Discovery beside VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery entering the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery enters the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Viewing Discovery from the 5th Floor of the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer
Discovery parked on the ground floor of the VAB. Credit: Ken Kremer

31 Replies to “Stripped Down Discovery rolls towards Retirement at Kennedy Space Center”

  1. Well, now we know why Mars is painted red – it will be ussr who makes it their colony…

  2. That’s a picture going to hit a lot of people hard. Hope there’s a fire under someone’s pants right now to get a replacement fully funded.

  3. This it a terrible loss to US and the world. They will surely be missed…. 🙁 Someone need to get their priorities straight and get us back to space, The USA has always been a leader… til now.

    1. No., this country hasn’t been a leader in decades.. After President Reagan left office was the last time this country was a leader and lead by a true leader.. The U.S.A. has been dwindling downwards and falling by the wayside since then., by its own doing.. That is the sad and tragic part of this story..

  4. NASA is the only organization in the world that can make me feel real emotional connections to machines. Spirit, Hubble, Cassini. the shuttles, New Horizons, JWST, etc. etc.

  5. Hopefully she’ll be fitted with prosthetic substitutes before being displayed.

  6. Man… now that I see this it really home that they’re really done with them… Hopefully in the centuries to come someone gets a hold of it and puts it in space again, where it belongs.

  7. This is very, truly sad. I am a bit shocked to see this mutilated spacecraft. I think it reflects exactly what we all feel about this ending. Space program has been mutilated very badly. I hope the US’s next government has the balls to get back in space.

  8. It seems like such a waste to do such a thing. Such a sad thing to do. The Shuttle programme is the best and always will be.

  9. You guys should check out Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, with row upon row of ‘mothballed’ (which implies, of course, that they cold be returned to flight status) and cannibalized aircraft…

    Once cleaned up and made safe (those missing OMS pods use very toxic hydrazine propellant…that’s why some of the Shuttle post-landing crews wear what look like spacesuits, themselves. They’ll be replaced.), the orbiters are going to museums, not scrap…just like every surviving US capsule and X-Plane to date.

    Don’t grieve, she (and her sisters) will be well taken care of, seen by many who could not see her before, and other vehicles *will* follow in her stead, some of them going places she could not…

  10. In all honesty, it will not be “many, many years” before the US returns to space. In all likelihood, Space-X or another commercial company will have a launcher up and flying by 2014 or 15.

  11. This is so incredibly sad to see, yet at the same time I also have to admit that I have some very mixed feelings about it as well. Human space exploration has very little future as long as it is controlled…and funded…by governments only concerned with their own petty self-interest (including and especially the US Government, regardless of it’s supposed leadership). If human space exploration is truly going to move into the future, it -must- move into the private and commercial sectors and the retirement of our proud space shuttles is really the only thing that’s going to make that happen.

    Hopefully as Discovery and her sisters sit proudly on display for all to see (with as David Macintosh describes as some “prosthetic substitutes”), they will inspire generations for many years to come so that one day we truly will be able to explore what’s “out there” and not only be a reminder of where we came from but where we should be going.

  12. It is definitely a sad commentary on a space program that produced incredible results time after time. What has been done to Discovery is criminal. They have turned a proud, fully functional ship that bears a name long revered for exploration into a sham of itself. By killing the orbiter fleet, the US has slipped to a minor player in the space exploration arena. I feel that I have lost true friends.

  13. Wow, thats a very very sad sight 🙁 Its like seeing a once proud person that you love on the autopsy table.

  14. Dudes, seriously: We’ve should fix the Burán (The URSS transbotator equivalent ), was capable of solo flight, even completing some orbits during tests. Fixing it with the discovery pieces, would be way cheaper than construnting a new one. That would give us a autoshuttle, and deliver supples to the I.S.S.

  15. THUD! What a state the scientific commentariat is in when it starts blubbing over a machine that was a huge waste of time,money and didn’t even get close to fulfilling its original potential. I mean everyone got sentimental over a bleeding spent SRB. Until we grow up we’re going nowhere and deserve to stay earth-bound. Jeeziz!!

  16. The end of an era and sad to see Discovery and the other shuttles go – but excited to pay a visit to the Air & Space Museum at Dulles Airport when it finally arrives!

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