This day in history: Independence Plaza opens

On a cold Jan. 23 morning in 2016, a new international landmark opened to the public.

Time flies when you’re having fun, especially when you’re inside a Boeing 747 that used to fly the skies. Independence Plaza turns three this year. The monumental exhibit remains a cornerstone of the experience at Space Center Houston. Nowhere else in the world can you walk inside a shuttle replica mounted on a shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA). Nowhere else is a shuttle replica displayed in the piggyback configuration used to transport shuttles back to their homes.

Independence Plaza is a truly unique experience. Three years after it opened, let’s look at how the gigantic exhibit came to be.

Independence makes its way to Space Center Houston via barge.

June 2012

After an eight-day voyage in the Gulf of Mexico, Space Center Houston’s new shuttle replica lands in Clear Lake and journeys down NASA Parkway to its new home. The shuttle came from Kennedy Space Center and was refurbished to create a high-fidelity shuttle replica.

September 2012

The SCA and the shuttle orbiter Endeavour begin a series of cross-country flights to deliver Endeavour to its new permanent home in Los Angeles. The pair fly over Houston during this time, along with flybys of many other NASA locations.

The shuttle carrier aircraft flies over Houston.

January 2013

NASA 905, which is the official designation of Space Center Houston’s SCA, lands for the final time with a shuttle on its back. The SCA delivers Endeavour to Los Angeles, where it will be ferried to the California Science Center, its permanent home.

July 2013

Space Center Houston officially takes control of NASA 905 from NASA at a ceremony at Ellington Airport.

October 2013

After a two-month naming contest, Space Center Houston officially unveils the new name for its shuttle replica: Independence.

The shuttle carrier aircraft makes its way to Space Center Houston.

April 2014

Boeing’s engineers worked in a unique situation: dismantling a 747 outside of a hangar to prepare it for the nearly eight mile journey from Ellington to Space Center Houston. They separated the wings from the fuselage and moved the whole section in a convoy over two nights. Dubbed “The Big Move,” the whole convoy traveled at 3 miles per hour and reached its destination on April 25. Once at Space Center Houston, Boeing’s engineers worked to put the SCA back together, making it flight-certifiable again.

August 2014

The shuttle replica Independence is lifted and placed on top of NASA 905 in a public event dubbed “Rise of Independence.” After the two were paired in the ferry configuration, work could begin to create Independence Plaza.

Grand opening of Independence Plaza.

January 2016

Independence Plaza opens to the public. NASA 905’s interior is redesigned and filled with interactive exhibits and graphics exploring the rich history of the Space Shuttle Program. A five-story tower is built so the public can enter both the shuttle replica Independence and NASA 905.

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