(All images by NASA, public domain, via Space.com)
During their careers, NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters lived side-by-side at the Kennedy Space Center, with Atlantis and Endeavour housed in adjoining bays and Discovery assigned to Orbiter Processing Facility-3 (OPF-3) across the road. But in reality, the shuttles rarely crossed paths. These images – which would have been hard to imagine a year ago – show a rare nose-to-nose meeting during a “shuttle shuffle” on August 11.
When NASA’s oldest surviving orbiter Discovery returned from space for the last time on March 9, 2011, the fleet workhorse was decommissioned in OPF-3 before moving into storage in the Vehicle Assembly Building – where the space shuttles were mated with solid rocket boosters prior to flight. Meanwhile, Endeavour was undergoing decomissioning in her assigned bay OPF-1 since returning from space on June 1.
With Endeavour’s vital systems and sensitive material removed, the two Space Shuttles switched places in a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into the inner workings of the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. As Endeavour was rolled out of OPF-1, Discovery was towed from the Vehicle Assembly Building, leading to a historic yet muted photo opportunity as the retired orbiters came face-to-face.
Discovery is now safely tucked away in Endeavour’s original OPF, while the latter moved into storage inside the colossal Vehicle Assembly Building. Atlantis, which became the last shuttle in space despite original plans to retire her early, touched down last month and is presumably undergoing decommissioning in OPF-2 alongside Discovery’s current storage location.
For now, we’re hoping NASA won’t pass up the opportunity to photograph all three Space Shuttle orbiters together before they go their separate ways to museums around the country. Meanwhile, Discovery’s long time home – Orbiter Processing Facility-3 – apparently lies empty.