Space Shuttle | Retirement Processing

Do you miss the Space Shuttle and those powerful launches? I have to admit that I do. They did their job well. I hope the Space Launch System replacement will give us the safety and effectiveness our astronauts and space program deserve.

This post is about the retirement processing for the shuttle fleet. There are a lot of pictures, all compliments of NASA, and not much text. Enjoy.

It looks like it had been involved in some horrible accident. Space Shuttle Endeavor shown as it was moved between buildings at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The move was part of the process each shuttle underwent to get them ready for their new homes at four locations around the country. The sight of the draped and duct taped shuttle with major parts missing is rather shocking.

Endeavour retirement processing.

The engineering marvels finished their careers. At their new homes, they might still inspire more young people to consider their future in the exploration of space. They did that while on active duty. I wish them a long and successful retirement.

Below are more pictures highlighting the steps in the process of making the shuttles safe for public viewing at their new homes. You can find a thorough discussion of details about this transition and retirement process for each shuttle at Spaceflight101.

Why Remove Some of the Shuttle Components?

NASA explains that some of the hardware will have possible future use. The hardware also needs to undergo technical and engineering studies. The main focus of the transition and retirement processing was to make the shuttles safe for the public to be near. The power units, sanitation systems, communications equipment, cockpit controls, to name just a few, needed to be removed. This post focuses on only the engines, reaction control thruster systems, and aerodynamic tail cone attachment.

Shuttle Main Engines

The shuttles did not take their main engines with them. Instead, they were fitted with mock-up nozzles that look like the real engines. The real engines will be part of the new Space Launch System heavy lift vehicle.

Removal of one of the three main engines.

Three from each shuttle.

A total of fifteen main engines were shipped to Stennis Space Center.


Put into shipping container.

Orbital and Reaction Control System Thrusters

Each shuttle had two Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods at the rear and a Forward Reaction Control System (FRCS) at the nose. They were used for orbit adjustments and maneuvers while in space. They operated with a hypergolic propellant which is very toxic. The thrusters and all parts and any seals that had contact with this chemical were removed. The outer shell covering and mock-up thruster parts were re-installed so it looked normal to the public.

OMS pod at the right rear of the shuttle held within yellow framework for removal.

A closer view shows the large circles where the main engines were once mounted.

OMS pod hoisted to another facility for removal of the dangerous chemicals, tanks, piping, and thrusters.

All of the tanks and hardware inside the shell were removed and the empty shell returned and reinstalled.

Aerodynamic Tail Cone for Flight

Three of the shuttles needed to be flown to their new homes on the back of another plane the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Each weighed 87 tons. Mating of the shuttle to the carrier aircraft was a delicate task performed by about 45 workers. To ensure as much aerodynamic stability as possible, a special tail cone section was installed on the rear of each shuttle for the flight to their new homes.

Three shuttles made the short trip from the Orbiter Processing Facility to the Vehicle Assembly Building in order to have the OMS pod, the FRCS shell, and the aerodynamic tail cone installed.

Engineers and technicians carefully guiding the shuttles between buildings.

Atlantis during her trip to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Mock-up engines and the empty OMS pods were installed before the tail cone cover.

The emptied and safe FRCS cover ready to be installed on the shuttle nose.

Carefully lowered into position.

The tail cone for aerodynamic stability during the flight to their new homes.

Ready to cover the simulated rocket nose cones.

In position and secured for flight.

Final flight marks a milestone in space exploration.

Clearly, a lot of work was needed to get these vehicles ready for their retirement homes. Maybe you will have an opportunity in the future to get a close view of one of the historic shuttles. I believe you will be impressed. Thanks for visiting.


14 thoughts on “Space Shuttle | Retirement Processing

  1. Loved this post! Actually, I can see the Johnson Space Center from my computer – well, at least the tops of the buildings. I can see the “shuttle” every time I drive west down Nasa Parkway.

    Ours came by barge, of course, and it isn’t a “real” shuttle, but it was quite the event. You can see what my view of the goings-on was here . In the comments there’s a video linked that shows what it was like for people in the downtown Houston office towers who couldn’t get to the lake for the party. The whole town went shuttle-crazy.

    The bar where you could rub elbows with the astronauts has burned down, the old Hilton where dignitaries stayed is gone, and it’s rare to hear buzz in the grocery store lines now when a mission’s up. But this still is Space City for a lot of folks, and some day those bureaucrats who denied us one of the real shuttles will get their comeuppance. (Actually, they probably won’t, but thinking so helps us deal with that little tinge of bitterness that remains!)


    • Good for you being in the right place. I am glad you like this post. It seemed a very interesting subject that would get some attention. Many of us ‘grew up’ in the shuttle era.

      I still have my application form for the Teacher in Space program. I was watching the launch live in the school library with some other teachers as we watched in horror at what happened.

      Thanks for that link and your great comments. 🙂


  2. In July 2009 we watched one of the last launches, in a room overflowing with 7 children, aged 11 and under, as well as 9 adults. The adults included one retired physics teacher, one aeronautical engineer, one future Air Force pilot…. And the children included one future …. We don’t know yet how those stories will play out. But I believe EVERY chance our children had to experience science on that scale, even as spectators, was a valuable opportunity.


    • That was a good time. We need to be able to do that more often so they can see something and dream about the future. I watched and dreamed about the space program from when I was about 10 just before Sputnik. It did impact me and my life a lot.

      Thanks dear… 🙂


  3. How can anyone not marvel at the shuttle. You probably recall the first test glide. Loved the farewell journeys to the final location. Meanwhile, it seems so big, well … until you see it strapped on the back of another aircraft.


  4. A few decades ago an airplane with a space shuttle atop it parked briefly at an edge of what was then a military airport, and lots of people parked along the adjacent road to look at it. I can’t remember if I was among them or if I merely saw it on television.


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