Orbital Nostalgia: Retired NASA Space Shuttles in Rare Nose-to-Nose Encounter

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discovery-endeavour-2 (All images by NASA, via Space.com, public domain)

For more than 20 years they were housed in adjoining bays at Kennedy Space Center. Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis were allocated to Orbiter Processing Facility 1 and 2 respectively, while Discovery lived in OPF-3 across the road. But despite their close proximity, NASA’s space shuttles rarely crossed paths during their operational careers. These images reveal a brief nose-to-nose encounter between Discovery and Endeavour, photographed during the shuttles’ decommissioning, prior to their delivery to museums across the US.

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The “shuttle shuffle” took place in August 2011. When Discovery – NASA’s workhorse shuttle and the oldest surviving orbiter in the fleet – returned from space for the last time on March 9 that year, the vehicle was decommissioned in its assigned Orbiter Processing Facility before moving into storage in the massive Vehicle Assembly Building.

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Later, after Endeavour’s vital systems and sensitive materials had been stripped-out, the retired orbiters switched places, affording photographers a rare glimpse of the inner workings of Kennedy Space Center, as well as the chance to see the space shuttles side-by-side, almost certainly for the last time.

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