Air Force Museum Unveils New Shuttle Exhibit

  • Feb 26, 2014 1:02pm GMT
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The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s new Space Shuttle Exhibit and STEM Learning Node opened to the public today after a special VIP and media tour last night. It features NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer (CCT-1) onto which museum and display company designers engineered a full-scale shuttle orbiter mock-up, including a 57-foot tall vertical stabilizer and engine section. It allows visitors to “walk through” the mock up, including the open payload bay featuring a real but never used 1980’s era Teal Ruby satellite, providing a vivid sense of scale in relation to the other aircraft nearby in the museum’s massive Cold War hangar.

The CCT is a nose and cockpit simulator used to train hundreds of astronauts who flew aboard the various shuttles. Unlike a real Shuttle, visitors are able to view up-close both the CCT’s flight deck, including its hundreds of controls and switches, and the mid-deck level where astronauts worked and slept during space missions. The $1.7 million project took 15 months to complete.

Included is an adjacent Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Learning Node, a 60-seat amphitheater-style classroom that will show space related videos when not in use for other scheduled programs. Lt. Gen. John "Jack" Hudson, USAF (Ret), museum Director, said it is the first of several such STEM education "Nodes" that will be added once the Shuttle Exhibit moves to its permanent home in a new $34.5 million hangar expected to open in early 2016.

The new building will be the museum’s fourth hangar, a 224,000 square-foot expansion designed to house spacecraft, experimental aircraft, a collection of presidential aircraft, as well as oversized transport aircraft (many of which have been displayed outdoors or with limited access to the public at the museum’s Wright-Patterson AFB annex). There the Shuttle exhibit will eventually come together with other current and soon-to-be-added missiles and space-related artifacts, including the actual Apollo 15 capsule.

At the long awaited conclusion of a closely held NASA competition to obtain one of four retired Shuttles, it was April of 2011 when Administrator Charles Bolden announced that Dayton would not be receiving one. Many Air Force and state officials had confidently speculated that the world-class Air Force Museum would be awarded the Shuttle Enterprise for display, given the facility’s free admission and parking, million-plus visitors per year, location at The Birthplace of Aviation, and formidable Air Force contributions to the Shuttle program. Though stung by the snub, museum officials gamely took the government/sister agency party line and gratefully accepted whatever Shuttle program artifacts NASA directed their way.

The retired CCT, flown from Johnson Space Center in Houston on the “Super Guppy” in August of 2012, was the most significant of the consolation prizes that NASA designated for the Air Force Museum. At the time of the April 2011 announcement, protests that the process was flawed, at best, raged privately and publicly in Ohio and D.C. At last night’s ribbon-cutting, more than a few whispers were heard privately pointing out that the Enterprise has suffered at its new home on the deck of New York City’s Intrepid Air & Space Museum. NASA’s choice of the retired Navy carrier museum for a Shuttle, with its high cost of access, is also clearly still mystifying to many.