Image: The Space Shuttle replica "Explorer"
Richard Carson  /  Reuters
Kayakers and paddleboarders watch as the space shuttle replica "Explorer" moves under a highway bridge into Clear Lake toward the dock at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Friday.
By Editor,
updated 6/1/2012 6:48:08 PM ET 2012-06-01T22:48:08

A full-scale space shuttle replica came into dock on Friday, but instead of pulling into an orbiting space station, it arrived at port in a Texas lake near NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The high-fidelity space shuttle mockup, which was known as "Explorer" for the 18 years it was at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, sailed into Houston's Clear Lake to a dock opposite the Johnson Space Center, where it will be offloaded for display.

"Though this is not a space-flown orbiter," Johnson Space Center director Michael Coats said, "it is the only one we know that is seaworthy."

The replica left the Florida spaceport on May 24 atop an open-air, flat-bed barge and made its way around the Florida peninsula and through the Gulf of Mexico. It entered Galveston Bay on Thursday.

PhotoBlog: Shuttle replica floats into Houston's Clear Lake

Its arrival at the Clear Lake dock, which occurred at 4:12 p.m. ET, kicked off a weekend "Shuttlebration" that culminates in a Sunday morning parade to move the mockup one mile (1.6 kilometers) to Space Center Houston, the official visitor center for Johnson. [Gallery: Space Shuttle Replica Docks in Houston]

Shuttlebration schedule
A welcome ceremony launched the celebration on Friday, with the performance of the national anthem and a flyover by NASA's T-38 astronaut training jets. Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined other local mayors delivering remarks before Max Q, the "All-Astronaut Band," took the stage.

"We don't need an artifact to remind us of the space program, we've lived the space program," Mayor Parker said. "Our neighbors are the space program. Our history is the space program and we're just glad this was a successful relocation of this mockup of the space shuttle so we can get it installed at Space Center Houston.

On Saturday, cranes will off-load the 122.7-foot-long by 54-foot-tall (37.4-by-16.5-meter) mockup off the barge and onto a wheeled transporter. The 130,000-pound (60,000-kilogram) replica is the largest item to come on shore using the Johnson Space Center dock since the three stages of a Saturn 5 moon rocket arrived in 1977 for display.

The public "Shuttlebration" will pick up at 6 a.m. ET Sunday for the replica's three-hour trip to Space Center Houston. The slow roll will give workers time to clear traffic signals, trees and other obstacles along NASA Parkway (also known as NASA Road 1).

NASA's next generation exploration rovers will join the procession, symbolizing the future of the space shuttle's human spaceflight legacy.

"We want them to see our history, but we want to be inspired to go out and make history with us," Coats told

Star attraction
Once the space shuttle mockup is in place outside Space Center Houston, the visitor center will open its parking lot for a free, family-friendly display of space-related exhibits and activities. Guests will also have the opportunity to view the space shuttle mockup at its new home.

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The replica will eventually become the star attraction of an educational exhibition themed around the retired space shuttle program. Designed for outdoor display, the mockup is fully detailed inside and out. Once an access ramp is erected later this year, Space Center Houston visitors will be able to walk through the orbiter to look inside the crew compartment and payload bay.

Built by Melbourne, Fla.-based aerospace replica manufacturer Guard-Lee Inc., the mockup is considered to be the highest-fidelity model of the shuttle ever created. It was constructed using schematics, blueprints and archived documents lent by NASA and its shuttle contractors. Some of the mockup's core parts, including the tires used on its landing gear, are authentic to the shuttle program.

"I think it's realistic enough for the kids to understand what we were doing when we were flying the space shuttles, which is the important thing to me," Coats said. "I want to inspire young people."

Visit for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA's retired space shuttles.

Follow CollectSpace on Facebook and Twitter @collectSPACE, and follow editor Robert Pearlman @robertpearlman. Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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