March 7th, 2012
05:16 PM ET

Rare look inside the shuttle Endeavour

Editor's note: CNN's John Zarrella brings us this insider's view of Endeavour: 

From the outside, you can’t see much. The engines have been removed. The vehicle is encased in scaffolding. But it’s still unmistakable.

In between the steel and ramps and stairs, you can make out the word "Endeavour" down the side. This space shuttle, which flew 122 million miles on 25 flights now sits in a building called the Orbiter Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center. Here, workers are preparing the orbiter for life after flying, life in a museum.

NASA on Wednesday gave members of the news media the opportunity to get up close, kick the tires. In fact, the tires were worn right down to the cords, nearly bald in spots. If Endeavour had been scheduled to fly again, they would have been replaced. Shuttles never flew with the same tires twice. One landing chewed them up.

From the outside, as you walk along platforms surrounding the vehicle, you can get a good look inside the cargo bay. It is absolutely enormous and pristine inside. The bay doors are open.

While it's overwhelming to stand under Endeavour, its belly plated with thousands of heat-shielding tiles, the real treat is yet to come. As they say, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

We crawl and hands and knees into the mid-deck area. Here we catch up with Travis Thompson. When shuttles were flying, he was the close-out crew lead. During his career, Thompson made sure 100 shuttle crews got in and got ready to fly.

“This is their living quarters. We’re in the mid-deck now. The flight deck is above us. The mid-deck is where they eat, sleep, potty,” he tells me. On televisions during missions, it looks pretty spacious. It is, by spaceship standards, but it's not much bigger than some people's walk-in closets.

Thomson adds, “There’s not as much equipment down here now. On launch day there would be lockers out to about 18 inches.” He points from the wall.

From this mid-deck level, where on launch three astronauts would be seated, you can squeeze yourself through a port and out to the airlock that opens into the cargo bay. In their spacesuits, the astronauts would spend 12 hours in the airlock, pre-breathing oxygen for their spacewalk.

Our last stop is the flight deck. From the mid-deck we climb a ladder up. In front of us are the commander and pilot seats. Here, too, there’s not much wiggle room. Above the seats and in front are banks of instruments, switches and buttons. The windows, made of three layers of glass, aren’t much bigger than on an airplane.

What strikes you the most is just how small the living and flying areas are. But it makes sense. The shuttle was built to be an 18-wheeler with wings to haul up satellites and massive sections and trusses for construction of the international space station.

All that is over now, and after 30 years the shuttles are going into retirement.

Stephanie Stilson, who was responsible for getting shuttles ready to fly, is now responsible for getting them ready to for display. It’s been tough, Stilson says.

“The thing we have been trying to focus on is how fortunate we are to continue to work with these vehicles until the very end," she says. "There are a lot of co-workers and friends that didn’t get that opportunity, so there’s a small group of us that have been very fortunate to be part of this. We’re shuttle huggers. We’re holding on until the very end.”

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    August 5, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  2. onlyfacts61

    Funny how all Obama haters gripe about Obama's over spending and in the same breath gripe about his spending cuts. But what can you expect from anyone who worships Fox News!

    March 9, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  3. larry5

    The display of the shuttle is like a tombstone, "Here lies the space program, a victim of Obama's new America". I would like to hear a new President stand up and say, "Let's go to Mars."

    March 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Grant

      Hey hey hey lets not let facts get in the way of a good rant.

      http://www.spacedaily.com/news/rocketscience-05o.html

      I want to go to mars as much as the next person who loves space exploration, but first we don't have any money for it. Second, the shuttle couldn't have got us there anyways its not designed for that purpose at all. Third, Obama cancelled constellation which was way over budget anyways, NASA is about as good as staying on budget as well... pretty much any other government agency. Now they are working on orion for NEO, and a Mars trip. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_%28spacecraft%29 . Obviously if we weren't 16 trillion in debt it would be quite a bit easier to throw money at it.

      March 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
      • chuck norris

        ...bc Wikipedia is the most reliable source on this planet...

        March 9, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • Chuck

      "Here lies the space program, a victim of Obama's new America" quoted Larry! I didn't know President Obama had anything to do with the cancellation of the Space Program. I thought the President just continued the shutdown. http://spaceksc.blogspot.com/2010/03/why-bush-cancelled-space-shuttle.html

      March 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  4. This_blank

    I always wanted to try astronaut food steak in a tube!

    March 7, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Jenny

      What? You want try an astronaut's tube steak?

      March 8, 2012 at 8:28 am |
      • Auth

        Morning Bumz. An Apollo Astronaut lives down the street from my pnaerts, and the father of a friend's boyfriend back in college was also an Apollo Astronaut. Going to the moon changed these guys forever, something that was evidently a very different experience psychologically than the shuttle missions. I witnessed the Columbia explosion. It was a Saturday morning in Dallas. I was in that twilight zone between sleep and waking up when this huge shaking BOOM rattled me more awake. I came to, thinking that was an explosion! Something happened that wasn't right. Not too long later Cactus Pete called to tell us what had happened. I think there were still debris trails in the sky when I got outside. It was very psychically disturbing. I was shook up most of that day. On a more positive note I saw one of the shuttles the one piloted by the first woman go streaking through the evening sky over my house and then watched it land in Florida on TV. It took only the time from me walking from the front yard to the den for the shuttle to travel from Texas to Florida. That was freaking fast!

        April 9, 2012 at 1:40 am |

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