Space Shuttle Endeavour

Taken: May 8, 2001

Ten years ago I had the pleasure of shooting Space Shuttle Endeavour's ferry flight departure back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Endeavour landed at Edwards AFB in California on May 1, 2001 after completing the 11 day STS-100 mission. The Space Shuttle usually only lands at Edwards AFB when bad weather prevents it from landing in Florida.

I woke up at 2:30am in order to make the 5:30am departure. It was quite a unique experience to drive up a lonely 14 Freeway in the dead of night and then a pitch black Rosamond Blvd. It seemed as if I was driving into a black hole. And I almost didn't make it on time either. The MPs at the main Edwards gate couldn't find my authorization to let me on base. By the time I finally got to the NASA Dryden office, I was worried they might have left without me. Right when I walked up to the door they were stepping out to leave for the runway. That was close.

Space Shuttle Endeavour Sunrise Ferry Flight Edwards AFB STS-100 May 8,2001

Find more of these pictures on my photostream @ Flickr

Space Shuttle Endeavour Sunrise Ferry Flight Edwards AFB STS-100 May 8,2001

Tough Flight

NASA uses modified Boeing 747 jetliners as Shuttle Carrier Aircraft or SCA. The SCA essentially "piggy-backs" the Space Shuttle to locations that are too distant for ground transportation. The SCA pictured here is NASA 905 and was the first SCA to enter service back in 1977. The Space Shuttle is hoisted atop the 747 SCA with what is called a Mate-Demate Device (MDD) and the two are then mated for the ferry flight.

The 747's flight characteristics are severely hampered with the Space Shuttle mounted. Service ceiling is reduce to 13,000-15,000ft with a range of only about 1,000 nautical miles. Its top speed is also reduced to about Mach 0.6 or 250 knots. This means that a mated SCA is more adversely affected by weather than a normal 747 which typically flies at 35,000ft with a speed of around 480 knots. The "piggy-back" ride at minimum takes 2 days to complete with about 3 stops along the way. Throughout these flights the SCA cannot fly through visible moisture (clouds) and therefore has to fly around or avoid all storms.

$1.8 Million

NASA likes to avoid having the Space Shuttle Orbiter land at Edwards AFB because of the extra work and cost involved in getting it back to Florida. Everything from flying out personel that assist in mounting the Orbiter to the actual flight takes a lot planning and teamwork. Weather plays a huge role in determining the flight route and this also adds to the cost.

The Orbiter cannot be exposed to rain while in flight and temperatures less than 15F. It also can't fly at an altitude where the pressure is less than 8 psia. During a typical flight a 747 can burn about 20,000 pounds of fuel per hour. Placing Endeavour on top causes the SCA to burn TWICE that amount because of the extra weight and aerodynamic drag. For security and various other reasons, the SCA/Orbiter can only land at preapporved airfields that can accomidate its unique requirements. Oh and let's not forget NASA C-9 airplane that flies about 100 miles infront of it in order to scope out the weather ahead. All of this adds up to about $1.8 million. :-O

Space Shuttle Endeavour Sunrise Ferry Flight Edwards AFB STS-100 May 8,2001