The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is holding a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 19, to inform the community about the multi-year restoration of the Pathfinder Space Shuttle Exhibit on display in the Rocket Center’s Shuttle Park. Work is underway on the first phase of the project, which begins with removing the Pathfinder orbiter from atop the external fuel tank. The news conference takes place in the parking lot facing the Pathfinder exhibit at 10:30 a.m.
Originally a top priority for 2020, the Rocket Center put the Pathfinder project on hold due to the severe financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic and reduced attendance at the museum and Space Camp. In August, however, the Rocket Center received a Save America’s Treasures grant for $500,000 from the National Park Service. Subsequent donations from Tim Sheehy, a multi-time Space Camp and Aviation Challenge alumnus and CEO and Founder of Montana-based Bridger Aerospace; Lockheed Martin Corporation, the late Dr. Joyce Neighbors; The Daniel Foundation of Alabama; and PPG Industries matched the grant, allowing the project to begin.
Matt Sheehy, Tim’s brother and a Space Camp alumnus and president of Tallgrass Energy in Leawood, Kan., has also made a significant donation for the Pathfinder project as well as other Rocket Center restoration efforts.
“We were honored to receive the Save America’s Treasures grant to help us restore the Pathfinder Space Shuttle, a beloved exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and a critical piece of hardware in the American space program,” said Louie Ramirez, USSRC Executive Director and. CEO. “We are grateful for the support of community partners and the Sheehy family for their help in getting us started on this important project. We look forward to working with our USSRC Education Foundation to raise additional funds to continue the work of restoring this important artifact in the future.”
The entire shuttle restoration is expected to be a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project, Ramirez said.
The Pathfinder shuttle stack was erected at the Rocket Center in 1988, and has remained the only full-stack shuttle exhibit in the world since that time. The property of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Pathfinder was originally used as a heavy-lift article to test handling, transportation and other procedures for the Space Transportation System, also known as the space shuttle. Pathfinder is a name NASA gives to articles used to test infrastructure and logistics for its programs.
In the early 1980s, a group of Japanese businessmen paid to modify the structure with plywood and fiberglass to more closely resemble a real orbiter and displayed it from 1983 to 1984 at an exposition in Tokyo, Japan. After the expo, Pathfinder returned to Huntsville and was mounted for the display seen today. More than 30 years of exposure to the elements have caused the modified elements to deteriorate, resulting in the need to bring the orbiter down.
The Pathfinder shuttle stack consists of:
External Tank Series No. 1, also known as Main Propulsion Test Article External Tank (MPTA-ET)
A pair of prototype solid rocket boosters
Three space shuttle main engines, including one flown on STS-1, the first shuttle fight. The other two were engineering development engines.
The Rocket Center has contracted with the Signature Renovations office in Loretto, Tenn., to manage the first phase of the Pathfinder Restoration Project. Once the orbiter is on the ground, the Rocket Center will work closely with NASA to evaluate Pathfinder’s original metal frame to determine the extent of the restoration work and the associated cost. Phase two of the project will be determined by what is learned in the evaluation stage.