Press Release

United Space Alliance Helps Transition Discovery to New Home

By SpaceRef Editor
April 17, 2012
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United Space Alliance Helps Transition Discovery to New Home

After decades of providing NASA’s primary support in maintaining and launching the Space Shuttle fleet, the United Space Alliance (USA) workforce watched with pride today as Space Shuttle Discovery departed Kennedy Space Center on the back of a modified 747 jet, bound for its new home at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum annex in Virginia.

USA, which has served as NASA’s prime Shuttle contractor since 1996, is responsible for preparing each of the three orbiters – Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour – for museum display, and is assisting in transporting the vehicles to their new locations in Virginia, California, and the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex in Florida. USA is also assisting in preparing Enterprise and transporting the vehicle to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.

“The dedication of this workforce has not waned, and they have applied the same care and precision they employed while the Shuttles were flying to the final preparations for museum display. While there is a sense of sadness to see this remarkable hardware go, we are all glad to know that millions of people from the U.S. and around the globe will now have the chance to see these impressive vehicles up close and personal,” said Mark Nappi, USA’s Vice President of Aerospace Services.
Work to ready the orbiters for public display began in 2011, as each orbiter completed its final mission and rolled back from the Shuttle Landing Facility for the final time. Discovery’s final mission, STS-133, was finished when the orbiter touched down on March 9, 2011.

Once Discovery was back in its orbiter processing facility, USA employees first completed the routine, post-mission tasks, including removing the payload, safing the hazardous systems, and removing the engines, the external windows and the extravehicular mobility units. Workers then set out to perform a series of reconfigurations and safing steps that were not part of the normal processing flow.

For example, the orbital maneuvering system pods and forward reaction control system, which provided on-orbit propulsion, were removed and sent to the White Sands Testing Facility for decontamination and removal of oxidizer fuel valves and hypergolic tanks. Tanks and lines related to the auxiliary power units, which provided power for movement of the orbiter’s aero surfaces, were removed.
Numerous other items were permanently removed from the interior, including: the 50-foot-long remote manipulation system arm; the orbiter docking system (the airlock remains); and some of the cameras and communications hardware. The aft portion of the orbiter was relieved of fuel tanks, flow control valves, hydraulic pumps and the Freon heat exchanger, which was used for cooling. Pyrotechnic devices were removed or safed. Many of these items will be used as part of the external display at the museum, while others will be reserved for use in future NASA programs.

The final step in the processing was to configure the vehicle for its ferry flight to the museum, which included installing struts for attaching to the 747 jet, and installing the large tail cone, which covers the engines and orbital maneuvering system of the orbiter during the flight. After completion of this work, Discovery weighed in at 161,321 pounds, which is about 30,000 pounds less than normal.

On April 14, USA employees towed Discovery out of the Vehicle Assembly Building, where it had been stored since March 9, and over to the Mate/Demate device at the landing facility. They then lifted the orbiter and lowered it onto the 747 jet also known as the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA).
At the other end of the journey, in Virginia, another group of USA employees is ready and waiting to reverse the process and demate Discovery from the SCA. On Thursday, they will help to roll the orbiter to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport.

“On behalf of each and every USA employee, it has been an honor and a privilege to care for this nation’s Space Shuttle fleet,” said Virginia Barnes, USA’s President and CEO. “This workforce made a very difficult task look easy, thanks to their absolute dedication and commitment to this program. We are all proud to have been a part of NASA’s Space Shuttle team, and we hope Discovery will continue to inspire this nation with her incredible space faring legacy.”

United Space Alliance is a world leader in space operations with extensive experience in all aspects of the field. Headquartered in Houston, USA has employees working in Texas and Florida. Currently, USA is applying its broad range of capabilities to NASA’s Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs as well as to space operations customers in the commercial sector. For more information, go to

SpaceRef staff editor.