Nasa’s retired space shuttle Endeavour was carefully hoisted late on Monday to be mated to a huge external fuel tank and its two solid rocket boosters at a Los Angeles museum where it will be uniquely displayed as if it is about to blast off.
A massive crane delicately began lifting the orbiter, which is 37 metres long and has a 24-metre wingspan, into the partially built Samuel Oschin Air and Space Centre at the California Science Centre in Exposition Park.
The building will be completed around Endeavour before the display opens to the public.
The 20-storey-tall display stands atop an 1,633-tonne concrete slab supported by six so-called base isolators to protect Endeavour from earthquakes.
All parts of the vertical launch configuration are authentic components of the shuttle system, including the rust-coloured external tank, which was flight-qualified.
Endeavour flew 25 missions between 1992 and 2011, when NASA’s shuttle programme ended.
The shuttle was flown to Los Angeles International Airport in 2012 atop a Nasa Boeing 747 and then created a spectacle as it was inched through tight city streets to Exposition Park.
The external tank arrived by barge and made a similar trip across the city.
The shuttle was initially displayed horizontally in a temporary exhibit hall. A ground-breaking ceremony for the Air and Space Centre was held in 2022 on the 11th anniversary of Endeavour’s final return from space.
The process of assembling the shuttle system in vertical configuration was dubbed “Go for Stack”, an informal term for putting together rocket components for launch.
“It’s incredible,” said Larry Clark, a veteran Nasa contractor who spent nearly his whole career as a shuttle engineer and is a consultant to the science centre’s project.
“It brings back a lot of memories for me,” he said. “You know, I saw every space shuttle on the launch pad that ever flew as I worked on the launch pad, and to stand here and see it again like this is kind of melancholy.”
In all, Nasa operated five shuttles in space. Shuttle Challenger and its crew were lost in a launch accident on January 28 1986.
Columbia and its crew were lost during return from orbit February 1 2003.
Retired shuttles Atlantis and Discovery and the test ship Enterprise, which did not go to space, are on display across the USA.