View of the Udvar-Hazy Center – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter
Everyone has heard of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC (at least if you read this site, you likely have). The museum’s main location, prominently located on the National Mall, has long been a favorite stop for tourists exploring the nation’s capitol. Less well-known, however, is the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center located 25 miles to the west, adjacent to Dulles International Airport (IAD). I recently took the opportunity to spend a few hours before a flight exploring this amazing facility, and I was not disappointed.
The museum, which opened in 2003, consists of two massive hangars housing over 3,000 aircraft, spacecraft, and other historical items. All told, there is nearly 300,000 square-feet of floor space in the museum. The collection includes the space shuttle Discovery, an SR-71, an Air France Concorde, and the B-29 bomber Enola Gay among many other fascinating pieces.
Col. Chris Hadfield describes life onboard the International Space Station to a packed house at the Future of Flight – Photo: Kris Hull
Colonel Chris Hadfield (RCAF ret.) is probably one of the most easily recognizable astronauts today. His popularity was spurred to rock star-like status in 2012 while he was training for his final spaceflight, a five-month stay on the International Space Station. Recently, Col. Hadfield made a stop in Everett, WA, to promote his newest book, You are Here ’“ Around the World in 92 Minutes, and AirlineReporter had a few minutes to sit down and talk with this amazing man about his missions, his infamous tweets, and his books.
Chris Hadfield, Canada’s most famous astronaut! Photo: NASA
In the last fifteen to twenty years, no astronaut has risen to the popularity that Chris Hadfield has. As one of the few Canadian astronauts, he has had the honor of flying into space three times: twice on the Space Shuttle, and once on a Soyuz. On his last mission, he assumed command of the International Space Station, only the second non-American or Russian to hold that honor. He was the only Canadian to visit the Russian space station Mir and was the first Canadian to walk in space.
When asked about his two space walks, and what it was like to exit that hatch for the first time, he said “It’s very visually powerful. It is overwhelmingly visually powerful outside. You have the Earth going by underneath you at five miles a second, and all of the colors that exist, the textures, are just amazing. When you look the other way, it is the complete blackness of the universe going on forever. And you are in the middle of all of this, hanging onto a silver and white man-made structure, holding on with one hand. The onslaught coming in through your eyes is amazing. Your eyes is the only sense that tells you were you are. It is an overwhelming experience. When I go back and watch the video of the first time I exited the hatch, I can see that I just stopped for several seconds and just took it all in. We over use the words awesome and incredible, but walking in space is both of these things.”
With the expected crowds wanted to see the shuttle, it was ferried across the country to LAX on what felt like the world’s largest flightseeing aircraft — a specially modified 747 — called the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. From this point the final mission for the Endeavour was ahead of it, but also a world’s first. A 12 mile journey across Los Angeles streets to its new (and temporary) home at the California Science Center.
The Shuttle Endeavour: Photo – Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
The science center is located at Exposition Park, which is home to the University of Southern California, a handful of other museums and also the LA Coliseum, where the 1984 olympics were held. This makes it an ideal location to handle the crowds, as there is plenty of space (and there sure was a lot of crowds the day I visited). The museum has the usual science center exhibits but the drawcard (at least for many folks) is the Endeavour, which currently lives in a temporary exhibit.
The spacecraft is in pristine condition though as it still shows the battle scars (pointed out by my guide Shell Amega) from its last mission into space. I would not have even realized these deep scars had they not been pointed out to me and it was these scars that had Cmdr Mark Kelly, who commanded STS-134, to make a go/no go decision. His choice was to either conduct a dangerous spacewalk to fix the damage or reenter the atmosphere with the damage as is. Cmdr Kelly made the decision to reenter as is, and they all made it back safely, finishing their final mission.
But the displays don’t just end at the shuttle itself. There are also a number of exhibits dedicated to the shuttle program including a genuine ’œSpace Potty’ where crew used the facilities in spaceflight (including the curtain installed just for when females first joined the shuttle program). There is the Rocketdyne Operations Support Center taken piece by piece exactly from the day of the last shuttle mission and put back together at the Science Center, including down to the position of mugs, pencils etc.
Misson 26 is a fantastic exhibition showing the people and places the shuttle went through on its journey across Los Angeles: Photo – Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
The one exhibit that really attracted me though was not the galley or the laboratory where the experiments were conducted in the cargo bay. It was ’œMission 26,’ which is a display of photographs used to chronicle the final mission for Endeavor and its journey through the streets of Los Angeles. This was a precision operation with laser measuring used to ensure that the shuttle did not damage things and any tree removed was later replanted (and they have been, with more to come).
Mission 26 though is full of the most stunning of photographs and video showing this journey through the streets. Not just of the shuttle itself but of the people, those who ventured out to welcome Endeavour to its new home.
Currently the California Science Center is building a true Air and Space wing to house the shuttle. NASA was a little bit puzzled and really worried that the plans were a bit out of left field as the shuttle will return to an upright position. Just as though it was sitting on the famous launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will sit surrounded not only by other spacecraft, satellites and displays but other aircraft as well. Once completed in 2017, it should make this a fantastic addition to aviation and space in Southern California.
The New Planned Air & Space Gallery at the California Science Center: Photo – Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
A visit to the California Science Center and the Shuttle Endeavour are free, but booking them online before you arrive (and thus a $2 fee) is the best avenue. Access to the shuttle is limited and the day I was there (in the middle of spring break mind you) tickets sold out early! It is still worth it though, the shuttle was a magnificent icon of just what we can achieve when we set our mind to it & it will hopefully continue to inspire people in our future.
This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.
Saturday June 30th was going to be a truly epic day for Seattle. Not just for the avgeeks amongst us but also for the spacegeeks, tourists, residents and anyone else you can think of. With the shut down of the Shuttle Space program all of the original shuttles, training pieces etc were being farmed out to museums across the country. Smithsonian was doing a swap with the Intrepid for a real shuttle, it made the news with the fly in shown world wide as a 747 piggy backed the shuttle to Dulles.
However, the Museum of Flight here in Seattle had also tried to get a shuttle, but there bids were unsuccessful. They were not able to get a real shuttle, however they did not come out of it empty handed. What they ended up managing to acquire was the Shuttle trainer. This full size mock up of the shuttle was used by the astronauts as their training piece and also used as a test bed for any upgrades that were made to the shuttle fleet.
Even though it was not going to be a real shuttle, this was going to be just as good, you could get into this, touch it, feel it, see how things really worked. But the main thing is, how do you get a full size shuttle trainer (that can’t sit on top of a 747 like the real thing) from the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, across to the other side of the country to the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The Super Guppy sits next to NASA’s chase plane outside the Museum of Flight. Photos by Malcolm Muir / AirlineReporter.com
Bring on the NASA Super Guppy. The last one left in existence that can still fly, is operated by NASA. So why not bring it on over to Seattle with the first of the pieces of the trainer; the Crew Compartment. The Super Guppy was originally designed to haul around pieces of oversized cargo and is based on an old Boeing Stratocruiser with Turboprop engines (the same used in the early C130 Hercules models) and having the iconic bulbous nose. NASA acquired it from the European Space Agency in the 1990s so it still has a fitting role in the Space industry.
The Super Guppy was scheduled to bring in the first piece to Boeing Field, where it could park right next to the Museum of Flight, unload and they could just deliver the first of 3 large sections directly to the new purpose built facility. However the weather was making things just a little bit difficult. The clouds threatened all morning and there was a weather delay.
By the time I arrived at the museum the crowds were pumping. Soundwave, the Seattle Sounders Official Band, were putting on a good performance for the crowd to keep everyone entertained. There was a good variety of people and the museum Caf and shop were doing a roaring trade. I, on the other hand, was on the way to hit up the best viewing spot possible (turns out it was directly above some fellow avgeeks).
Soon enough after a dozen false alarms thanks to an oversized Banner/Flag being towed around Seattle, the Super Guppy came around for her low pass.
The Museum of Flight’s DC-2 waits to welcome the Guppy. Photo by Malcolm Muir / AirlineReporter.com
She was brilliant and shiny. You could see her coming from a mile away as the smoke belched out from the turboprops (just like they do on those old engines) and with a chase plane for photos or escort (not sure which).
Eventually she came back in for her landing and it was a graceful touch down, with a bare puff of smoke as the wheels touched the tarmac. She taxied almost the full length of the runway directly up to the parking lot in front of the museum. Here is where the fun really started for the ground crews.
The crew that the flew the aircraft were met by someone dressed in an EVA Space Suit and off into the crowd they went. The crew that flew the Guppy were in a fully fledged astronauts suit as well and many kids wanted their photo with the crew and the ’œSpaceman’.
With the time for me running short I started to head off, but not before watching the ground crew try to squeeze the Guppy into the parking bay. It was a tight fit with a 48ft undercarriage width and a 50ft Wide Taxiway, things had to be perfect. It took a good 15 minutes or more just to move it a few feet (probably longer as when I left at the 15 minute mark they were still at it).
A truly epic way to start the summer off here in Seattle, a rare aircraft, a small amount of Avgeek and the beginning of what will I am sure be an amazing exhibit for the Museum of Flight when it opens in late 2012.
Watching a space shuttle take off is a pretty amazing experience. Seeing it take to the sky from an airliner is that much better. This is an amateur video of the Space Shuttle Discovery taking off for the last time. Some readers on Airliners.net pin-pointed the flight as a JetBlue flight from Orlando, FL to Richmond, VA.