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The 747 that carried America’s space dreams

We all saw how spectacular and successful last Saturday’s SpaceX launch was, as it marked the first time in almost a decade that America has launched people into space. But before the fancy new capsules and SpaceX technology came the original space plane, NASA’s space shuttle.


The shuttle was a spacecraft that can land like an airplane does, but it had no engines that work in the earth’s atmosphere to help with the landing-nor did it leave any fuel left to return to earth from space for that matter!

Therefore, you might be wondering: how did NASA move the shuttle around the US?

And the answer to that is the shuttle aircraft carrier;

Inside the Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft – National Geographic ...

The shuttle aircraft carrier was basically a modified Boeing 747-100 with added ailerons at the back and a completely stripped-out interior that was full of structural supports to be able to carry around the space shuttle from the landing sites back to the launch site at Kennedy’s space center in Florida.

The shuttle aircraft carrier had the following specifications:

Crew: 4: pilot, co-pilot, 2 flight engineers (1 flight engineer when not carrying Shuttle)
Length: 231 ft 4 in (70.51 m)
Wingspan: 195 ft 8 in (59.64 m)
Height: 63 ft 5 in (19.33 m)
Wing area: 5,500 sq ft (510 m2)
Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7J turbofan engines, 50,000 lbf (220 kN) thrust each

Cruise speed: 250 kn (290 mph, 460 km/h) / M0.6 with Shuttle Orbiter loaded
Range: 1,150 nmi (1,320 mi, 2,130 km) with Shuttle Orbiter loaded
Service ceiling: 15,000 ft (4,600 m) with Shuttle Orbiter loaded

As we can see, it has a very short range. This is due to the 75,000 kg shuttle piggybacking on top. However, the aircraft remains pretty capable of carrying the shuttle around quickly from the west coast or central Texas back to the launch center regardless. So good in fact that NASA had 2 of those aircraft! (N911NA and N905NA)

Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Both aircraft were retired by 2012, making their final flights delivering the retired shuttle orbiters to their museum homes across the US.

File:Shuttle Carrier Aircraft beneath the Space Shuttle Endeavour ...
How the shuttles were mated to the 747

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1 Comment

  1. Great post! I got to watch the flying entourage carrying Endeavour as it came in toward Los Angeles International Airport over the Pacific Coast — Malibu area. What an exciting event! I was on the balcony of a beach bluff property in the midst of a local Bible study group. We all crowded the deck, cameras in hand, to witness the historic event! Dawn

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