Mock Space Shuttle Pathfinder lowered for restoration after 30 years
NASA's early mockup of the Pathfinder Space Shuttle orbiter was lowered from its outdoor display in Huntsville, Alabama on Monday. The model will undergo a multi-year, multi-million-dollar restoration. The model was set up as an outdoor display on May 5, 1988. The restoration effort will address structural issues and wear that have developed over the last 30 years.
Senior Director of Communications at the US Space and Rocket Center, Patricia Ammons, said the model is being brought down to look at the structure and metal for signs of wear. Pathfinder was partially dismantled before being lowered 80 feet to the ground. The Rocket Center was awarded a $500,000 Save America's Treasures grant last year. It also has a fundraising campaign underway.
The Rocket Center's funding will be used for the restoration effort, Ammons said. She added that although NASA will not fund the efforts, it will be a part of the project. The Rocket Center will be working with the Marshall Space Flight Center as the latter has been involved in the endeavor since the beginning.
The Pathfinder model was built in 1977 using wood and steel. It closely mimics the size, weight, and shape of the Space Shuttle orbiter, but lacks exterior details that made the Enterprise and Columbia iconic. It was used in ground tests at Marshall and also at Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, before being put in storage at Marshall for several years.
The Pathfinder model was later acquired by the America-Japan Society and modified to resemble space-worthy orbiters. It was then shipped to Tokyo for exhibition at the Great Space Shuttle Exposition from 1983 to 1984. Upon return, the mock orbiter was mounted as an exhibit at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
It is widely believed the engine nozzles on the exhibit have flown on Space Shuttle Columbia's first flight. Ammons said her organization is uncertain about the truth of the engine nozzles' history. Ongoing restoration will also assess the external tank and solid rocket boosters on which the Pathfinder model was mounted. Ammons estimates the restoration project will take three years at most.