Discovery Space Shuttle: Northern Virginia the Final Frontier

On an ordinary work day, at Deltek’s Herndon, Va., headquarters, you’d find hundreds of analysts researching the government contracting market, peering into computer monitors. But not today. Today we flooded the parking lot and flocked to the windows. Work stopped twice this morning as a huge piece of government contracting history passed right outside our office.

Deltek was not the only company whose productivity halted this morning. From our position in a low-rise parking garage, we looked longingly across the Dulles Toll Road at contractors from Raytheon, DRS and Exelis perched on their rooftops.

This was a little more interesting than looking at FedBizOpps (click to see more Shuttle-related pictures).

We were all watching as Discovery, the most-travelled and oldest-existing U.S. space shuttle, passed by on its final journey to nearby Washington Dulles International Airport. After landing, the shuttle will be taken to the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly for permanent display. Starting April 19, it will sit alongside other government contracting icons, such as Chuck Yeager’s sound-barrier breaking Bell X-1 (“Glamorous Glennis”) and the atomic bomb-dropping Boeing B-29 Superfortress (“Enola Gay”).

Discovery Contractor Background

The contract for Discovery itself was awarded January 29, 1979 to Rockwell International’s Space Transportation Systems Division (now part of Boeing) in Downey, California. Work began on August 27, 1980 and the assembled spacecraft was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center on November 9, 1983.

Other major contractors were:

  • Martin Marietta – external tank
  • Morton Thiokol Chemical – solid propellant motors for the rocket booster
  • United Space Boosters – other solid rocket booster components
  • Lockheed Space Operations – assembly of the solid rocket booster

The Final Journey

NASA paid United Space Alliance (USA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, $11.1 million to prepare and transport the Discovery for public display

The expedition began at the home of the space shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA), Dryden Flight Research Center in California. The facility is also home to the space shuttles’ servicing and maintenance hangar, designed by Voorheis, Trindle and Nelson. Santa Fe Engineers completed the $3.7 million project in early 1976. The SCA left the center for Florida on April 10.

The SCA itself is a modified Boeing 747-100 with four Pratt and Whitney (now part of United Technologies) JT9D-7J gas turbine engines. The SCA, the same one which initially delivered Discovery to NASA and towed it on 36 other flights, was purchased from American Airlines in 1974 and modified by Boeing. A second space shuttle carrier was bought in 1989 from Japan Airlines, and also modified by Boeing. This smaller SCA was recently retired.

The actual journey of Discovery started at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Pre-flight, the shuttle was lowered onto the SCA via the Mate-Demate Device. Connell Associates designed the device [PDF]. It was constructed between 1974 and 1978 by Beckman Construction Company. The device is part of a shuttle landing complex designed by Greiner Engineering Sciences and built by Morrison-Knudsen.

The D.C. area flight path was scouted by NASA on April 5 with two Northrop Grumman T-38 Talon training jets. Lincoln Automotive provided ‘spot-the-shuttle safe driving tips‘ for area motorists hoping to catch a glimpse of the flight path. Nevertheless, we heard a loud truck horn from the Dulles Toll Road as someone apparently slowed down or stopped to see the shuttle.

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