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Fate of the Space Shuttles

Atlantis and Endeavour on the launch pad [Wikimedia Commons image, courtesy of NASA/Troy Cryder]
Atlantis and Endeavour on the launch pad [Wikimedia Commons image, courtesy of NASA/Troy Cryder]

With the end of the Space Shuttle programme in sight, NASA announced the names of the museums that were to receive the three remaining airworthy Space Shuttles on their retirement.

Where To See a Space Shuttle

As expected, the Kennedy Space Center has received a shuttle and another had already been promised to the National Air and Space Museum. The final resting places of the four remaining shuttles are:

  • Space Shuttle Discovery -- the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Washington DC (replacing Enterprise)
  • Space Shuttle Atlantis -- Kennedy Space Center, Florida
  • Space Shuttle Endeavour -- California Science Center, Los Angeles, California
  • Space Shuttle Enterprise --Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, New York

The fourth Space Shuttle, Enterprise located at the National Air and Space Museum was moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, New York, with Discovery's arrival. It never actually went into space but was used to test systems, gliding and landings, being launched from the top of a Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft.

Around 20 museums had made a bid for a shuttle but the idea was to locate them across the breadth of the United States to give everyone a chance to see one. Other space shuttle related artefacts have been distributed amongst a number of other museums throughout to United States.

In all, six flyable Space Shuttles were built, but two were lost with all their crew; Challenger was the first in 1986 when it exploded shortly after launch following a failure in one of the solid rocket boosters and then Columbia in 2003 when it disintegrated upon re-entry following damage to the protective tiles during blast off.

Final Flights

Discovery completed its last mission (STS-133) and was de-commissioned in readiness for its move to Washington.

Endeavour made its final mission (STS-134) and was decommissioned upon return to Earth before heading to the West Coast.

Atlantis then flew the last ever shuttle mission (STS-135) without any rescue backup shuttle before returning to the Kennedy Space Center for the final time, marking the end of a 30 year programme to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

The replica shuttle, Explorer, located at KSC, has been moved to NASA's Space Center Houston in Texas.