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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two Space Shuttles Face To Face

Shuttle shuffle: Discovery and Endeavour come face-to-face on runway as Nasa officials prepare them for life on the ground

* Shuttles swap hangars so engineers can continue to prepare them for their final museum homes

Two of Nasa's three retired space shuttles were greeted with cheers as they traded places yesterday.

In a rare nose-to-nose encounter, Discovery and Endeavour met outside the shuttle hangar at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Discovery moved into the hangar and Endeavour went to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Nasa employees lined the route to watch something they will never see again as the two giant shuttles, reminiscent of two retired heavyweight boxers, were wheeled towards each other.

Shuttle titans: 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 yesterday

The switch was necessary for Nasa to continue preparing both spaceships for their future homes.

Discovery will head next spring to a Virginia hangar belonging to the Smithsonian Institution.

Endeavour will then be transported to the California Science Centre in Los Angeles.

Atlantis - which recently completed the last shuttle flight - will remain at Kennedy for public display.

Last month, Atlantis was towed into its hangar at the Orbiter Processing Facility several hours after it landed, ending not only its two-week mission, but a 30-year shuttle programme which has long been the pride of America.

The shuttle, which was paraded through the streets to thousands of cheering fans, was carefully locked away for the last time, signalling the end of an era.

NASA workers gather in front of the shuttles. The switch was necessary for Nasa to continue preparing both spaceships for their future homes in museums

Discovery (right) awaits its turn to approach Endeavour outside Orbiter Processing Facility-3. Shuttle Atlantis - which recently completed the last flight of the 30-year programme- will remain at Kennedy for public display

It was the last time the shuttle will be seen by the public for a while after it made a perfect landing at Cape Canaveral, completing the 135th mission for the fleet, which has covered an astonishing 542million miles and circled Earth 21,150 times.

The five shuttles have carried 355 people from 16 countries.

Nasa originally promised 50 shuttle flights a year, but the programme suffered two tragic accidents that killed 14 astronauts and destroyed two shuttles - Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003.

Nasa never managed more than nine flights in a single year. And the cost was almost £1billion a flight.

The very first shuttle flight took place in April 1981. It will be another three to five years at best before Americans are launched into space again from U.S. soil, with private companies gearing up to seize the Earth-to-orbit-and-back baton from Nasa.

Go your own way: Discovery (right) and Endeavour head to their new hangars

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