The process to prepare a space shuttle orbiter for display

This is the future home of Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

As Atlantis is prepared for display next year, it is interesting to see what was done to prepare Discovery for display at the Smithsonian. (NASA photo)

A similar view of Discovery. The Forward Reaction Control System (behind the nose cone) has been removed. In the previous photo of Atlantis, the area is covered with protective plastic. (NASA photo)

This is Enterprise at the Smithsonian (as seen in 1996). Enterprise never flew to space, it was used for flight and landing testing only. Enterprise doesn’t have insulating fabric or protective thermal tiles.

Enterprise was relocated to New York City, and Discovery is now on display at the Smithsonian. Note the patchwork of scorched insulating fabric. Some of the panels look new, and it is easy to think that these panels were replaced after Discovery’s last flight.

Here’s Discovery on liftoff of its final flight. Note that the patchwork of fabric looks pretty much as it does now at the Smithsonian! (NASA Photo)

Here’s Discovery a split second before landing. Note the patchwork of panels on this side of the orbiter. (NASA Photo)

Another common assumption is that some of the thermal tiles were replaced before Discovery went to the Smithsonian. You can see a patchwork of older and newer tiles in this photo of Discovery shortly after its last landing. (NASA Photo)

A similar view at the Smithsonian.

One of Discovery’s final crew members takes a final look at the external tank fuel connector. The door slams shut when the external tank is released, and seals the area with thermal tiles. (NASA Photo)

Same area during preparation for the Smithsonian. (NASA Photo)

Same area as seen at the Smithsonian.

The doors also protect mount points for the orbiter. Here, the orbiter is mounted on posts during preparation for the Smithsonian. (NASA Photo)

The same mount points held the orbiter to the 747. (NASA Photo)

Note the scorching along Discovery’s nose cone edge in this photo taken just after the final landing. (NASA Photo)

The nose cone while Discovery was prepared for the Smithsonian. (NASA Photo)

As seen at the Smithsonian.

In this view, Discovery is being towed from the landing strip into an Orbiter Processing Facility. (NASA Photo)

Orbital Maneuvering Systems (OMS) are the pods on either side of the main engines.

The same OMS as seen in the previous photo. The OMS were removed during the preparation for the Smithsonian, and cleaned of all traces of propellant. (NASA Photo)

During preparations, Discovery was shuffled between buildings at the Space Center. (NASA Photo)

Discovery crossed paths with Endeavour. (NASA Photo)

Same moment, as seen from above. Current plan is that Endeavour will fly by 747 to Los Angeles in September. (NASA Photo)

Note how Discovery’s tail spread open for additional wind resistance and braking. (NASA Photo)

A common question is, what is in Discovery’s cargo area now?

The cargo hold is empty. The doors were shut for the last time shortly after this photo was taken. (NASA Photo)

Workers prepare Discovery’s cabin. Note all the signatures. (NASA Photo)

(NASA Photo)

Discovery’s cabin door being sealed for the last time. (NASA Photo)

As seen at the Smithsonian.

Final preparations for Discovery’s final flight on the 747. Note the mount point. (NASA Photo)

Same area as seen at the Smithsonian.

(NASA Photo)

(NASA Photo)

At the Smithsonian.

Discovery also crossed paths with Atlantis. (NASA Photo)

Atlantis will be on display in the building seen under construction here. Guests will be able to see the orbiter from above and below, and Atlantis will have its cargo hold open. (NASA Artwork)

New exhibits and facilities are also under construction between the Visitor Complex entrance and the Debus Conference Center.

Stay tuned as we watch Atlantis arrive in its new home.

Here’s a short video showing the ongoing construction:

Construction Update for Space Shuttle Atlantis display at Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex website has a live construction webcam you can check anytime at


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