U.S. Space and Rocket Center to begin shuttle restoration project


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A Huntsville icon is getting a facelift, but that means it will disappear from the local landscape for a while.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Pathfinder Space Shuttle will be removed from its spot atop an external fuel tank in order to restore it, museum officials said Tuesday. A company in Loretto, Tenn., will work with NASA to determine the extent and cost of the needed restoration work.

The orbiter has been a prominent feature at the Space and Rocket Center since 1988. Marshall Space Flight Center originally used the orbiter to test handling, transportation and other procedures for the space shuttle program.

A group of Japanese businessmen paid to modify the orbiter with plywood and fiberglass to make it look more like a real orbiter, and it was placed on display at a Tokyo exhibition from 1983 to 1984. Those modified elements have deteriorated to the point that it needs to come down for restoration, museum officials said.

Pathfinder restoration was originally a priority for the museum last year, but the coronavirus pandemic put a strain on the Space and Rocket Center’s finances and forced the project to be put on hold.

In August, the museum received a $500,000 grant from them National Part Service. In addition to that, they received donations from Space Camp alumnus Tim Sheehy, who is founder and CEO of a Montana aerospace company; Lockheed Martin, the late Dr. Joyce Neighbors, The Daniel Foundation of Alabama and PPG Industries that allowed them to proceed on the project.

The entire shuttle restoration is expected to take several years.

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