Note: These images may in fact have been seen, but nowhere on the internet can I find all of them. So if they’re not on the internet, they are now!
I recently found these handful of concept prints in an old scrapbook my dad had made when he was younger. The magnificent prints looked more like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey than the space shuttle that I know and love. Never really thinking much about them, I put them back in the book and let them be. For whatever reason (probably because I’m watching Cosmos) I went back and found these old prints again and decided to ask my dad where they came from.
Back in 1975-76 he attended an engineering illustration class at the Rockwell site in Downey, California where he lived and went to high school. During his time there he was given many of these prints and posters. This Rockwell site plays an important role in the space race and the American space agency, for it was the location where the design and manufacture of the rockets and landing capsules for the Apollo mission. It’s interesting to note that failed parts manufactured by North American Rockwell were to blame for the Apollo 13 incident. This stretch of land in Downey has since been purchased by the city and sold off. In asking my dad about the concept prints he told me they were actually concept art for the Space Shuttle program. These prints, made in the early 1970s, were early design ideas of the proposed space shuttle program. These prints were not the only thing Rockwell produced for NASA. My dad also told me of a time at the Rockwell site where he walked through a large wooden mock of
the space shuttle.
More than 40 years ago NASA contracted aerospace manufacturing companies to design what would later be called the Space
Transportation System (STS). North American Rockwell (later called Rockwell International and later purchased by Boeing in the 90s) won the bidding and was the sole manufacturer of the six original Space Shuttles: Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour, but these six were technically not the only shuttles Rockwell built.
In 1972, in order to sell NASA on their design, Rockwell created a 122’x78’ wooden mock-up of their shuttle, complete with opening cargo-bay doors and a detailed interior. My
dad recalls walking through the structure and being able to touch the wood and plastic that made up the entire structure. Before the age of 3D printing and modeling Rockwell built a wooden model of the Space Shuttle, a model nearly the size of the Statue of Liberty. In 1975 my dad saw the future of the space flight nearly 10 years before the first space shuttle, Columbia, launched it’s first human crew into space. Since the 70s, this wooden mock-up has only been seen a handful of times (the image on the right shows the massive wooden shuttle in the early 70s. Image from Aaron Harvey).
The city of Downey, the current owners of the wooden mock-up, is currently looking to place in its fiscal year 2014-2015 budget funding to create a committee and director to get the project of building a permanent visitor center up and running. Downey has since received a $3 million federal loan to build such a structure, but the city has yet to develop a plan that the city council can agree on to begin the project. Until that time comes, the mock shuttle sits in storage, and a piece of American history lays unseen.
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