Mission Monday – Our Shuttle Carrier Aircraft celebrates its 50th birthday

This month, one of the largest artifacts at the center turns fifty! One of only two NASA shuttle carrier aircraft in the world, NASA 905 is still capturing the imagination of visitors from across the globe, even in retirement.

In celebration of NASA’s original shuttle carrier aircraft turning 50, we have gathered five fast facts for you to learn more about this heavy lifter.

1. Before it was NASA 905, it was a commercial jet for American Airlines.

NASA 905 was built by Boeing in 1970, taking to the skies for the first time on Oct. 15 of that year before being delivered to American Airlines on Oct. 29. Prior to its acquisition by NASA in 1974, the 747 served as a commercial jet for American Airlines!

2. NASA 905 was first used as a SCA for the Approach and Landing Test (ALT) program, which launched the shuttle orbiter prototype Enterprise into free flight.

In 1976, NASA had Boeing make structural modifications to NASA 905 to transform it into a plane capable of transporting shuttle orbiters. NASA 905’s first task as a shuttle carrier aircraft was to carry and launch the shuttle orbiter prototype Enterprise during the ALT program in California in 1977.

The first free-flight test of space shuttle Enterprise took place during this program.

The shuttle carrier aircraft was then modified again, structurally transforming the plane into a ferry flight configuration. NASA 905 flew four test flights in this new configuration before it was cleared for service.

3. NASA 905 had an extensive career, carrying shuttle orbiters 223 times throughout its 42 years in service.

By the end of its career, NASA 905 had carried shuttle orbiters 223 times, logged 11,017 flight hours, and taken off 6,334 times throughout its 42 years of flying, including as a commercial jetliner.

NASA 905 made 70 of the 87 ferry flights during the Space Shuttle Program, which includes 46 of the 54 post-mission transports from California to Florida.

4. NASA 905’s final ferry flight in the Shuttle program was delivering the retired shuttle orbiter Endeavour in 2012.

NASA 905 carried three of the retired shuttle orbiters (Discovery, Enterprise, and Endeavour) to their new homes in 2012. However, its final ferry flight for the Space Shuttle Program was transporting Endeavour to Los Angeles, where it remains on display today at the California Science Center.

NASA 905 then returned to Ellington Field in Houston and flew one final time in December 2012 for a 90-minute pilot proficiency check.

5. NASA 905 now sits in Independence Plaza at Space Center Houston, as the only shuttle carrier aircraft to have a shuttle replica mounted atop it on display

On May 2, 2013, NASA Johnson Space Center officially handed over NASA 905 to Space Center Houston.

The acquired aircraft was put on display at the center with a shuttle replica mounted atop in piggyback configuration, in a first-of-its-kind exhibit, called Independence Plaza.

This international landmark opened to the public on Jan. 23, 2016. Guests can experience something unique with this historic exhibit. It is the only display to have a shuttle replica mounted atop the SCA in piggyback configuration and it is also the only place in the world that visitors can walk inside a shuttle replica as it sits atop the shuttle carrier aircraft.

Watch this short video clip below to learn more about Independence Plaza, and don’t miss this unique experience to explore NASA 905 and the shuttle replica Independence the next time you visit the center.

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