June 18, 2012

Original 1972 space shuttle mock-up to emerge

Just when it seemed all the space shuttles had been doled out to museums for display, it turns out there’s one more – sort of.

A full-size mock-up built in 1972 by the shuttle contractor Rockwell has for years been under wraps in a dark and empty warehouse in Downey, Calif., a southeast Los Angeles County city where the spacecraft were manufactured.

This week, the City Council approved temporarily relocating the mock-up to a tent on a nearby movie studio parking lot while funding is found for a permanent home where it can be displayed in honor of Downey’s role in aviation and space, the Los Angeles Times reported June 15.

The mock-up, made mostly of wood and plastic, is 122 feet by 78 feet. It was built by North American Rockwell – which later became Rockwell International and then part of the Boeing – as part of the proposal to win NASA’s contract to build the shuttle.

“It would be used for marketing our design approach to NASA and also be an engineering aid to our designers and manufacturing engineers,” said ex-shuttle worker Gerald Blackburn, president of the Aerospace Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization of former aerospace employees working to preserve Southern California’s aerospace history.

But for years now it has been stored disassembled under dusty sheets of plastic behind three chain-link fences in an unlighted million-square-foot building.

“Except for some school trips years ago, it’s never been open to the public,” Councilman Mario A. Guerra told the Times.

“We’ve been dreaming big about displaying it, but we just haven’t had the funds,” he said. “We plan on restoring it for kids to have the ability to actually get in it and sit at the control room onboard.”

The impetus for the move is the sale of the plant site, which was closed down by Boeing in 1999, and plans to build a $500 million shopping center there.

Moving the model will require taking apart a wall. The city and property owner plan on spending about $157,000 for the move to the tent, where it’s hope it can be on display within the next three months.

Eventually it is planned to be part of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, which opened in 2009 as an official national memorial to the crew of shuttle Columbia who died when it broke apart on re-entry in 2003.

The center’s executive director, Scott K. Pomrehn, estimated it will cost $2 million to put the model on exhibit.

“The bottom line is this is the original shuttle. The one Rockwell sold NASA on. And it has been sitting in the dark,” he said. AP

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