Can You Solve This Apollo 1 Spacesuit Mystery?

Reader Jeff Arnoldi recently approached me with an intriguing question about this Apollo 1 picture:

Note that the U.S. flag is on their right shoulders. Every other Apollo mission crew and all mission crews since then wear the flag on their left shoulders.  Did the astronauts change after the Apollo 1 fire?  Why did they make the change?

In response, Universe Today put a call out to several people with knowledge of those spacesuits that were used in the Apollo 1 mission, which ended fatally in January 1967 when all three crew members died in a pad fire.

A lot of redesigns were made to the equipment to prevent the same situation from happening again, but it appears the flags were not that crucial to the spacesuit design — even though a new spacesuit was used in Apollo 7.

Weeks of searching later, we have some great theories from the experts about why the flags were switched, but no definitive answer. Feel free to let us know if you have heard anything!

There’s some important historical context about the suit that we’ll get into in a moment, but first, here’s some feedback we received from a few spacesuit experts:

The Apollo 1 crew training at North American's Downey Facility. Note the flags aren't on the spacesuits in this shot. Left to right: Virgil "Gus" Grissom Roger Chaffee, Edward White. Credit: NASA
The Apollo 1 crew training at North American’s Downey Facility. Note the flags aren’t on the spacesuits in this shot. Left to right: Virgil “Gus” Grissom Roger Chaffee, Edward White. Credit: NASA

Walter Cunningham, Apollo 7 astronaut and backup crew member for Apollo 1:

Our crew, obviously, wore both. We were concerned about flexibility and security of the suits. We had no time to be concerned with style or decorations. I know of no policy decision on the question you asked.

Shawn McLeod, field operations manager for David Clark Co. (which constructed the suit):

Our archives indicate photos in the field of the Apollo A1-C suits both with and without the U.S. flag. Based on our literature search, our team believes positioning/placement of the U.S. flag was more than likely performed in the field after the suits were delivered from David Clark Company. Field installation of patches is not unusual – especially, for a program as fast-paced as Apollo. […]

Anecdotal evidence leads us to believe that the flags were sewn on whichever arm there was room. The left arm has a pencil pocket, and maybe with the pencils sticking out they would cover part of the flag, whereas the right arm has the neck seal pocket and a little more room. Furthermore, the referenced photo shows the flag was incorrectly positioned per U.S. Flag code. If they wanted to use a flag on the right sleeve, they would need to use the version with the field of stars facing forward. Perhaps someone noted that at some point and the correction was made.

Ronald Woods, NASA spacesuit expert for 45+ years:

I spoke with one of the suit technicians that supported Apollo 1 and he didn’t remember the flags being on the right arm. I have seen them in several pictures of the Apollo crew at different events, all on the right arm.  Not sure at this time why and who may have sewn them on. During Apollo, we technicians would only sew the crew patches on the flight suits several weeks before launch.

Nicholas de Monchaux, author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo:

I think there is a simple explanation, which is that the Apollo 1 suits were modified Gemini suits made by the David Clark Co., and the Apollo 7 suits were the first generation of [newer manufacturer] ILC suits. My guess is that two different manufacturers took two different approaches.

Apollo 1's crew in another spacesuit shot. From left to right: Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. Credit: NASA
Apollo 1’s crew in another spacesuit shot. From left to right: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. Credit: NASA

To learn more about this type of Apollo spacesuit, Universe Today approached Cathy Lewis — a curator who specializes in spacesuits at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Intriguingly, it appears every NASA spacesuit that has a flag on it — besides the A1-C used in Apollo 1 — has its flag on the left. More from Lewis:

In all other suits in our collection where a flag is present, the flag is on the left.  The collection includes suits made for NASA for programs and those made as prototypes and suits made for the USAF [United States Air Force] for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program.  Just as a note there were no flags in the Mercury suits that B.F. Goodrich made for NASA.

As the Bill Nye: The Science Guy show used to repeat … but wait, there’s more.

Lewis also gave us some great background on the suits used for Gemini and Apollo. The Apollo missions actually had two different sets of pressure garments — the A1-C and the A7-L, while the Gemini missions used the G4-Cs. Essentially, the G4-C and A1-C suits were the same thing (a high-altitude suit design adapted for space), made by the same prime manufacturer — David Clark Co. The next set of suits, the A7-L (made exclusively for space work), had ILC Dover as the prime manufacturer.

Lewis added that she does not see the flag switch as being tied to the change in manufacturer.

Gemini 4 astronaut Jim McDivitt reviewing a crew procedures book in a trailer on the way to the launch pad. His flag was on the left shoulder. Credit: NASA
Gemini 4 astronaut Jim McDivitt reviewing a crew procedures book in a trailer on the way to the launch pad. His flag was on the left shoulder. Credit: NASA

Lewis did a great job summarizing a lot of history in a few paragraphs, so we decided to include her entire e-mail here.

It is not likely to have anything to do with the manufacturers per se, because, DCC had placed the flag on the left shoulder for the Gemini program. The shift between DCC and ILC is a very long and complex story that began in 1962 with the first solicitations for suit prototypes for the Apollo program. ILC was selected as the suit manufacturer in 1965 with Hamilton Standard as the primary contractor by virtue of their government contracting and systems engineering experience.

That corporate relationship fizzled and left NASA with the option of putting off the design of the Moon-walking suits and falling back on their Earth orbital experience with DCC and Gemini for the early, Earth-orbiting Block I missions.

While DCC was making A1-C suits based on the G4-Cs that Ed White had used for the first US spacewalk, they were also competing with ILC, HS and others for the new Moon-walking suit contract.

The 1967 Apollo 204 fire changed NASA’s plans for different Block I and Block II (lunar orbiting and lunar landing) spacesuits. The resulting contract went again to ILC as primary with HS [Hamilton Standard] as sub with responsibility for the life support systems and systems integration for a suit that worked in Earth and lunar orbit and moon-walking.

Unless I am missing something, I don’t see an engineering issue over the placement of the flag.

If you have any other thoughts about why the flag switch occurred, feel free to let us know in the comments!

Enterprise Ferryflight to NYC tentatively set for April 27


Unstable weather has temporarily grounded the last flight of Space Shuttle Enterprise for just a few more days.

Visitors to New York City – Prepare yourselves for a breathtaking view !

NASA is tentatively targeting Friday, April 27 as the date of the historic ferryflight of Enterprise from the Washington, DC area to the New York City metropolitan area, if the weather cooperates.

“Managers shifted the flight from Wednesday to Friday because of a large region of low pressure dominating the East Coast. The weather is predicted to be more favorable Friday,” NASA said in a statement today.

Enterprise is a full scale prototype space shuttle orbiter that carried out critical approach and landing tests in California in the late 1970’s, setting the stage for the first shuttle blast off in 1981.The orbiter is named after the famed “Starship” in the iconic TV series “Star Trek”.

Space Shuttle Enterprise is already piggybacked atop NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC and awaits the GO command to take off for New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

As I wrote earlier, visitors to Dulles Airport can get an exquisite view of Enterprise strapped aboard the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) from the upper levels of the Daily Parking garage. Go see it in these few extra days before it departs forever.

Space Shuttle Enterprise mounted atop NASA 747 Carrier Jet at Dulles Airport - Commercial Jets Fly By. The public can easily see NASA’s 1st orbiter bolted on top of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) from the upper levels of a Daily Parking Garage at Dulles Airport. On April 19, 2012, Enterprise was towed out of the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Chantilly, Va. and swapped for shuttle Discovery. Enterprise will be flown to New York City this week. Credit: Ken Kremer

Originally the ferry flight had been scheduled for Monday and then switched to Wednesday, April 25. But a powerful storm swept through the US East Coast over the weekend and continuing poor weather has further disrupted the flight plans.

NASA and the FAA are coordinating the flight which is expected to arrive and conduct a series of breathtaking low flyovers over and near various landmarks and historic sites in the New York City between 930 and 1130 a.m, including the Statue of Liberty and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – her permanent final home and resting place. The exact route and timing depend on weather and operational constraints.

When the flyover is complete, the SCA will land at John F. Kennedy International Airport and more than 1500 dignitaries are expected to be on hand to welcome Enterprise to the Big Apple.

In the weeks following the arrival, Enterprise will be “demated” from the top of the 747 using a pair of heavy duty cranes and placed on a barge for a dramatic seagoing voyage and will be moved by tugboat up New York’s Hudson River to the Intrepid museum in June. The shuttle will be lifted and placed on the flight deck of the Intrepid, where it will be on exhibit to the public starting this summer in a temporary climate-controlled pavilion.

The Intrepid museum is constructing a permanent exhibit facility nearby to showcase Enterprise and the museum’s space-related exhibits and education curriculum.

Since 2003, Enterprise has been on public display at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Annex in Virginia.

Last week, Enterprise was replaced at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center by Space Shuttle Discovery in a prestigious welcome ceremony featuring Astronaut and Senator John Glenn, 1st American in Orbit.

Ken will be on hand for the history making Grand Arrival of a magnificent NASA Space Shuttle flying over the superlative Manhattan skyline. Feel free to send me your Enterprise photos to post at Universe Today.

Enterprise Strapped atop 747 and Delights Dulles Airport Flyers


Space Shuttle Enterprise has been strapped atop the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) that will soon fly NASA’s path finding orbiter from Dulles Airport to her new and final home in the Big Apple – and to the delight of Dulles Airport flyers and visitors she’s all primed at a spot offering a fantastic public glimpse of the historic last flight ever of NASA’s 1st space shuttle vehicle.

Have you ever dreamed of seeing the magnificent sight of a NASA space shuttle on top of a 747 Jumbo Jet up close with your own eyes ?

Imagine this view on take off !
Space Shuttle Enterprise mounted atop NASA 747 Carrier Jet at Dulles Airport - Commercial Jets Fly By. Credit: Ken Kremer

Well, right now anyone can get that superb glance of the mated duo quite simply from one of the upper level parking decks at Dulles Airport. And you don’t need a press pass, plane ticket, intrusive TSA pat down or a secret service security clearance.

And because of inclement weather, you will have a few extras days to catch history in the making of a sight that will soon evaporate into the ether of time. Only a Stak Trek era holodeck with bring it back.

After setting up to photograph Enterprise from the parking deck, I was joined within minutes by more than a dozen enthusiastic folks and kids !

NASA has postponed the planned Monday, April 23, departure of Enterprise from Dulles for New York City and touchdown at JFK Airport because of expected bad weather at both ends of the Washington to New York itinerary.

Universe Today has been told that NASA is now aiming for a Wednesday departure, weather permitting.

See Enterprise and Discovery nose to nose, here

A whirlwind of Flyers buzz by Enterprise at Dulles Airport prior to NYC departure. Credit: Ken Kremer

Right now and continuing over the next few days, supremely lucky passengers seated aboard arriving and departing jets at Dulles are enjoying a truly stupendous bird’s-eye view of the winged NASA orbiter that most aerospace fans can only dream of. Just be sure to sit on the correct side on the plane.

Check out the photos herein taken from the Dulles Daily Parking Garages taken by myself and fellow space photographer Brent Houston with invaluable assistance from space photographer Walter Scriptunis II.

In a first-of-its-kind “Shuttle Shuffle”, shuttles Enterprise and Discovery swapped spots at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Chantilly, Va.

Enterprise was first towed out of the Smithsonian’s museum display hanger in the early morning. The pair of shuttles then met for a historic nose to nose rendezvous – lasting just 4 hours. Finally, Space Shuttle Discovery was hauled inside to the prestigious spot formerly occupied by Enterprise.

Space Shuttle Enterprise sits on top of NASA 747 Carrier Jet at Dulles Airport. A pair of cranes was used to hoist Enterprise onto the back of the 747. Credit: Brent Houston

Since 2003, Enterprise has been the centerpiece at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Annex in Virginia.

Enterprise is named in honor of the fictional Starship of galactic exploration from the immensly popular “Star Trek” science fiction television series of the 1960’s.

The Shuttle Enterprise rolled out in 1976 with the cast of Star Trek !
In 1976, NASA's space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the 'Star Trek' television series. From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. "Bones" McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Rodenberry; an unnamed NASA official; and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov). Credit: NASA

After landing at JFK Airport, Enterprise will be moved to a barge for a seagoing journey to her permanent new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in Manhattan.

Read more about Enterprise in Ken’s earlier story here and watch for more articles

Discovery & Enterprise – Historic Nose to Nose Shuttle Image


Two NASA Space Shuttles – Enterprise and Discovery – sit nose to nose in a historic, once in a lifetime meet up at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Annex in Virginia on April 19, 2012 for the official transfer of ownership from NASA to the Smithsonian.

Space Shuttle Discovery was the first orbiter retired from NASA’s fleet of three space flying shuttles. It completed 39 missions, spent 365 days in space, orbited the Earth 5,830 times, and traveled 148,221,675 miles.

Discovery was ferried to the museum on April 17 after arriving atop a 747 Jumbo jet and a series of triumphant fly arounds of the US Capitol region.

Discovery takes the place of Enterprise. NASA says Discovery will commemorate past achievements in space and serve to educate and inspire future generations of explorers at the Smithsonian center.

Discovery is now open for public viewing.

Enterprise is being flown to New York City on April 23.
Photo gallery to follow.

Discovery Enters Eternal Smithsonian Home as Historic Relic


Space Shuttle Discovery, the longest serving and most flown spaceship in human history, entered her eternal home today, Thursday, April 19, at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Annex in Virginia.

Discovery thereby assumed her new status as a museum relic and monument to the promise and glorious dreams of space exploration, inspiring future generations of explorers to reach far beyond their grasp and accomplish the unthinkable. That’s what space and science are all about.

The space shuttle program and all three of NASA’s winged spaceships were forcibly retired by politicians at the conclusion of the final shuttle mission, STS-135, in July 2011 which left America with no means to launch our own astronauts into space and to the International Space Station.

Shuttle astronauts march with Discovery being towed from Dulles to the Smithsonian’s Udvar Hazy Center on April 19, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

Discovery officially became the property of the Smithsonian Museum when NASA Administrator Charles Bolden signed the title of ownership over from NASA to the world renowned museum at a public ceremony held today at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

“Today, while we look back at Discovery’s amazing legacy, I also want to look forward to what she and the shuttle fleet helped to make possible,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “As NASA transfers the shuttle orbiters to museums across the country, we are embarked on an exciting new space exploration journey. Relying on American ingenuity and know-how, NASA is partnering with private industry to provide crew and cargo transportation to the International Space Station, while developing the most powerful rocket ever built to take the nation farther than ever before into the solar system.”

National Air and Space Museum Director, General John “Jack” Dailey said, “Discovery has distinguished itself as the champion of America’s shuttle fleet. In its new home, it will shine as an American icon, educating and inspiring people of all ages for generations to come. The Museum is committed to teaching and inspiring youngsters, so that they will climb the ladder of academic success and choose professions that will help America be competitive and successful in the world of tomorrow.”

Bolden and Dailey signed the transfer documents in front of the huge crowd who came to celebrate Discovery’s arrival.

Shuttle astronauts march with Discovery being towed from Dulles to the Smithsonian’s Udvar Hazy Center on April 19, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

The official handover ceremony was witnessed by a prestigious gathering of some three dozen astronauts including more than a dozen men and women who served as Commanders of Space Shuttle Discovery and Senator and Astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth 50 years ago in 1962.

Glenn flew to space for the 2nd time aboard Discovery as a payload specialist in 1998 at the age of 77. He is the oldest person to fly in space.

Shuttle astronauts march with Discovery being towed to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center and official Welcome ceremony on April 19, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

And the general public showed their enthusiastic support for NASA and space exploration by attending in the thousands and staying all day for the dozens of activity stations, presentations and displays organized by NASA and the Smithsonian and its donors.

Glenn made clear his disagreement with the end of NASA’s shuttle program.

Discovery arrives at her final resting place in the Smithsonian on April 19, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

To make way for Discovery, Space Shuttle Enterprise was first towed out a huge rear door of the museum early this morning. Discovery and Enterprise then met nose to nose as the dramatic backdrop for the official welcoming ceremony.

Late this afternoon, Discovery was towed to her final resting place into the museum to the exact spot formerly held by Enterprise, which had been on display at the Virginia facility since 2003.

Altogether, Discovery flew 39 missions and spent a full year (365 days) in space, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles during a space flight career spanning 27 years.

Discovery flew its maiden voyage on Aug. 30, 1984 and blasted off on her final voyage on Feb. 24, 2011. The STS-133 mission was the final flight for the illustrious orbiter which landed at the Kennedy Space Center on March 9, 2012.

Discovery deployed the iconic Hubble Space Telescope to orbit, one of the premier science instruments built by humankind. Discovery delivered many other science payloads to orbit and also to explore the solar system, including the Ulysses solar probe.

The winged spaceship was NASA’s fleet leading orbiter and played a significant role in building the International Space Station and visiting the Russian Mir Space Station.

Demating Discovery for Smithsonian Welcome


Following Discovery’s triumphant final flight from her Florida Spaceport home and victory lap tour above the skies of Washington D.C. – piggybacked atop a 747 Jumbo Jet – she landed at her permanent new home at the Smithsonian’s Virginia annex on April 17 and the dynamic duo taxied off the Dulles Airport runway to a temporary parking spot off to the side.

Tonight, Discovery is being demated from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, designated NASA 905.

Discovery awaits Demating after landing at Dulles Airport on April 17, 2012 and as numerous aircraft fly by for landing descent. Discovery sits atop modified Boeing 747 carrier jet. Hoisting cranes at left.
Credit: Ken Kremer

As Discovery awaited demating off to the side of a Dulles runway, numerous jets have descended right past – with some lucky passengers catching a birds eye glimpse of that remarkable sight of Discovery sitting atop a 747 jet.

A pair of rented monstrous cranes at front and back will hoist Discovery – weighing around 166,000 pounds – off the jets rear and three unbolted attach points. The 747 will then be backed out, Discovery’s landing gear and wheels will be extended and the cranes will gently lower NASA’s most experienced shuttle orbiter to the ground in a delicate and rarely performed ballet.

Demating cranes, Discovery and NASA 905 Jumbo Jet at Dulles Airport on April 17, 2012.
Credit: Ken Kremer

A small crew of the few remaining shuttle workers has meticulously prepared the Dulles airport site over the past few weeks, drilled stabilizing holes into the tarmac and assembled the Demag cranes which stem from a company in New Jersey and were specially flown in from a Canadian worksite.

NASA’s fleet leading orbiter will then be towed a short distance to her permanent new home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

The public is invited to attend the Smithsonian’s “Welcome Discovery Day Celebration” on Thursday, April 19 to witness the final leg of Discovery’s trip, being towed inside. The museum doors open at 8 a.m. sharp.

Those who attend the Smithsonian’s April 19 festivities will be treated to a once in a lifetime view of a shuttle shuffle and two space shuttles – Discovery and Enterprise -poised nose to nose for about 4 hours.

Space Shuttle Enterprise is being towed out of the Udvar-Hazy Center to make way for parking Discovery in her new home at the exact same spot now occupied by the prototype orbiter Enterprise since 2003.

Over the weekend, Enterprise will be hoisted atop the modified 747 and fly to her new home in New York City on April 23 – weather permitting.

Enterprise will land at JFK Airport and eventually be transported by barge to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in Manhattan.

See you at the Smithsonian and send Ken your Discovery photos to post at Universe Today.

Discovery Poised for Final Takeoff on April 17


Space Shuttle Discovery is poised for her final takeoff, bolted firmly on top of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This morning (Tuesday, April 16) the mated pair were backed out of the Mate/Demate Device at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

See more images from Universe Today photographer Mike Deep at KSC, below:

The Mate-Demate facility at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Mike Deep

Kennedy Space Center has been Discovery’s home for three decades and the countdown clock is ticking down relentlessly to a day many hoped would not come foe many more years. In just a few hours she will depart for the last time and never return.

The SCA jet, designated NASA 905, will fire her engines at the runway and take flight shortly after sunrise at 7 a.m. on Tuesday (April 17), fly around the Space Coast facilities and beaches, putting on a great show for the throngs expected to wish her a fond farewell. The best view is from the beaches around Port Canaveral and the lucky visitors at the landing strip itself.

Discovery and the SCA. Credit: Mike Deep.

Then, NASA 905 will head north and ferry Discovery to her permanent new home and museum display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

With Discovery mated to NASA 905, they begin the move away from the device known as the MDD, or mate/demate Device. Credit: NASA

Discovery is expected to arrive in the Washington, D.C. area around 10 to 11 a.m. with spectacular views around the National Mall area as well as National and Dulles Airports and the Udvar-Hazy Center, at only about 1500 feet altitude – weather permitting.

NASA TV will air live broadcasts of Discovery’s flight

Discovery inside the mate/demate device. Credit: Larry Sullivan/NASA

If you spot the shuttle along the way and around the DC area, send Ken your photos to post here at Universe Today.

Final checks on Discovery. Credit: Mike Deep.
NASA astronauts attending the press event for Discovery. Credit: Mike Deep.
Discovery ready for her ride. Credit: Mike Deep.
Credit: Mike Deep.
Aerial View of Space Shuttle Discovery on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at the Kennedy Space Center after exiting the mate/demate device at left on the shuttle landing strip. See the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and new mobile launch platform in the background. Credit: NASA

Shuttle Discovery Mated to 747 Carrier for her Final Flight to Smithsonian Home


Following a busy weekend of work, Space Shuttle Discovery is now attached piggyback style to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and all set for the final flight to her ultimate resting place at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia on Tuesday April 17. There she will reside on permanent display for the public just a short distance outside Washington D.C.

In the predawn hours on Saturday (April 14), Discovery was towed for the last time to the Mate- Demate Device (MDD) at the Shuttle Landing Facility and NASA’s specially outfitted Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet awaiting her in Florida. But howling winds in the subsequent hours delayed the hoist and mate on the back of the huge carrier plane.

Today (Sunday, April 15), the winds calmed and technicians raised Discovery and mechanically bolted her atop the SCA jet, designated NASA 905.

“It may have taken two days because of weather, but Discovery was attached to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft today (April 15),” NASA KSC spokesman Allard Beutel told Universe Today after the mating operation was finished.

“And we’re on track to give Discovery a proper send off to its new home on Tuesday morning.”

NASA 905 will carry out all the remaining flights to ferry Space Shuttles Discovery, Enterprise and Endeavour to their permanent museum sites in Virginia, New York and California. The last remaining shuttle – Atlantis – will be towed later this year to her new home a few miles down the road at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Towing Discovery into the mate/demate device at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The initial mating of Discovery and the SCA in the mate/demate device was completed at about 11:15 a.m. EDT. The shuttle was finally secured to the carrier jet a few hours later on Sunday afternoon and will be backed out of the MDD on Monday, April 16.

NASA 905 will lift off at about 7 a.m. to ferry Discovery to the Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on April 17 with a planned arrival between 10 to 11 a.m. depending on weather.

If you spot the shuttle along the way, send Ken your photos to post here at Universe Today.

The SCA will fly over multiple locations from Washington, DC to the Udvar-Hazy Center as low as 1500 feet for the public to enjoy before finally landing at Dulles Airport.

Ken hopes to be on hand at the Udvar-Hazy Center for Universe Today

Discovery’s final departure from the Kennedy Space Center marks a bittersweet time for all who worked on the shuttle program as well as fans and advocates of space exploration across the globe.

NASA Terminates Power, Locks Cargo Doors on Retiring Shuttle Discovery


Space Shuttle Discovery was powered down forever and the payload bay doors were locked tight for the final time on Friday, Dec. 16, by technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Take a good last glimpse inside the retiring Discovery’s payload bay as the clamshell like doors seal off all indigenous US human spaceflight capability for several years at a minimum.

The historic “Power Down” came after both of the 60 foot long cargo bay doors were swung shut this morning for the last time inside the shuttle hanger known as Orbiter Processing Facility-1 (OPF-1) – in the shadow of the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).

Workers at KSC are in the final stages of the transition and retirement activities that will soon lead to Discovery departing her Florida launch pad forever on her final voyage. They are converting the orbiter from active duty flight status to display as a nonfunctional and stationary museum piece.

Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander, formally marked the final power down and sealing of Discovery’s payload bay doors at a ceremony in OPF-1 with the skeleton force of remaining shuttle personnel engaged in the decommissioning efforts.

Discovery’s payload bay is glimpsed for the final time as its doors swing shut with the aid of yellow-painted strongbacks, hardware used to support and operate the doors when the shuttle is not in space. Discovery's doors were closed and the vehicle was powered down for the final time. Discovery is being prepared for public display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., in 2012. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Discovery was the Fleet leader and NASA’s oldest orbiter having flown the most missions. All told Discovery soared 39 times to space from her maiden flight in 1984 to her last touchdown on the STS-133 mission in March 2011.

In between, Discovery deployed the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, launched the Ulysses solar probe and numerous other science satellites and Department of Defense surveillance platforms, conducted the first shuttle rendezvous with Russia’s Mir Space Station and delivered key components to the International Space Station including the last habitable module.

Discovery payload bay and doors sealed for History inside Orbiter Processing Facility-1 at KSC. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Discovery flew both ‘return to flight’ missions following the Challenger and Columbia tragedies as well as the second flight of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn, first American to orbit the Earth.

Discovery has been thoroughly cleansed and cleared of all hazardous materials in preparation for making the vehicle safe for public display at her new and final resting place, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va..

Technicians re-installed the three power generating fuel cells after draining and purging all the toxic materials and fuels from the fuel lines and assemblies. Three replica space shuttle main engines were also installed last week.

The "vehicle powered" sign is momentarily lit as KSC technicians prepare to power down space shuttle Discovery for the last time. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
The "vehicle powered" sign is turned off following the final power down of space shuttle Discovery. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

In 2012, the 100 ton orbiter will be hoisted piggyback atop NASA’s specially modified 747 carrier aircraft. Discovery will take flight for the last time in April and become the center piece at her new home inside the Smithsonian’s spaceflight exhibition in Virginia.

To make way for Discovery, the prototype shuttle Enterprise currently housed at the Smithsonian will be hauled out and flown to New York City for display at the Intrepid, Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Altogether, Discovery spent 365 days in space during the 39 missions, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles during a career spanning 27 years.

There is nothing on the horizon comparable to NASA’s Space Shuttles. Their capabilities will be unmatched for several decades to come.

America is now totally dependent on the Russians for launching US astronauts to space until privately built ‘space taxis’ from firms like SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada are ready in perhaps 4 to 6 years.

Liftoff of Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-133 mission from the Kennedy Space Center on 39th and historic final flight to space. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle Discovery rolling to the Vehicle Assembly Building during summer 2011 as it's being processed for retirement before transport to permanent home at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Virginia. Thrusters, OMS pods and main engines were removed for cleaning of toxic components and fuels. Credit: Ken Kremer