Some people in the Seattle region might have been disappointed last year when we didn’t land a real Space Shuttle. But after getting a behind-the-scenes look at the Space Shuttle trainer being assembled at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, I walked away feeling like we got lucky.
This thing is awesome.
Over the 30-year life of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, every astronaut spent hours upon hours practicing in the Full Fuselage Trainer, preparing for their missions. The interior of the trainer mirrors an actual Space Shuttle orbiter in almost every way imaginable — from the placement of the controls to the shape of the toilet.
Stepping inside is a chance to walk in the footsteps of astronauts, and to see what they went through on their long journey into orbit.
The trainer, delivered in pieces over the past few months, is now being assembled inside the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Seattle museum. Our tour was led by Geoff Nunn, the exhibit developer.
Childhood dreams were realized as there in front of me, dominating the room, stood a giant wooden Space Shuttle replica. The trainer is in pieces now but will be fully assembled by the end of September. The payload half is being outfitted with a new walkway where visitors will be able to walk though the trainer. The nose of the shuttle, housing the cockpit and living quarters, will be attached in its original place.
We enjoyed the rare treat of actually getting to step inside the crew cabin and flight deck. The cabin is so tiny, it’s wild to think of seven people actually living in there (eating, sleeping, using the restroom, but no shower). The trainer is precise when it comes to layout and control placement, and some of the buttons are wired to work.
Even the toilet is completely replicated, although Nunn told us that it’s non-working. Apparently, going to the bathroom in space takes such finesse that it requires its very own mockup for “training.”
Everything has its place in the cabin. It’s lined with lockers carrying everything from delicate experimental equipment to athletic exercise bands. The cabin and flight deck are covered with patches of velcro where tools and other necessities attach. NASA used special NASA blue velcro strips to denote regular issue items and yellow velcro for special astronaut-requested items.
Climbing up a tiny ladder, you reach the flight deck, which is even smaller than the main cabin and covered in switches, dials, and gauges. I was momentarily tempted to act out every sci-fi film I’ve ever seen in a crazy montage. The coolest things on the flight deck are the controls for the robotic arm, the closed-circuit television screens of the payload area, and the bags that hold the ropes if one ever has to rappel down the side of the shuttle, using a system called “sky genie.”
When the exhibit opens this fall, be sure to visit this amazing icon of space transportation. In the meantime, click on any photo to open our exclusive gallery of space awesomeness.
The shuttle is in pieces now but will soon be complete.
A walkway is being built where visitors can walk inside the shuttle.
One of the shuttles small engines.
The shuttle walkway will be ADA accessible.
The pilot seats haven’t been installed yet.
Construction workers adding on and rebuilding.
Just one of the artifacts in the museum’s back room.
Historic artifact: The crew of the final Space Shuttle flight on Atlantis signed a space inside the wheel well as the last group of astronauts to train in the FFT.
Geoff Nunn and Ted Huetter seem as excited as I was to go in main crew cabin.
The tail sits next to the payload bay for now.
A tiny toy compared to the true-to-life shuttle.
Photos of space add ambience.
Just like the real thing.
In case an astronaut ever has to navigate manually, they use one of these.
This is a hatch from the outside.
The payload bay, tried to get all 60 feet of it.
Everything on the shuttle must be NASA approved, this is the standard toolkit.
An extremely comfy-looking NASA bootie.
The hatch opening. Can’t wait to get in there.
From the outside, you can tell how tight the quarters are.
Space is limited, the floor doubles as storage.
Looks like an Ikea display, no?
For now, the hatch door rests against a wall.
The ceiling is covered with wires, cords and do-dangles.
The kitchen, complete with stove (and you thought your kitchen was small).
Everything for the mission must fit in these lockers.
Did you remember to lock the hatch?
Maximize space! An air filtration system hides in the floor.
Wires dangle everywhere.
Double, triple check this door is locked.
You can probably make a mean cup of joe with this.
Where’d I put the tape?
Keep this latched!
The handle of the front hatch.
So many buttons and switches!
Heaven forbid you find yourself needing these directions.
These seem important…
Next to the toilet, you’ll find these.
Complete with foot braces, a delicate dance.
Don’t want to mix these up.
From inside looking out the hatch.
The coolest room ever!!!
Imagine floating up and down through here.
Here’s where one of the pilots sit.
This is cool looking AND functional.
Closed circuit TV shows what’s going on in the payload bay.
Throttle and NASA blue velcro.
More views from the pilot seats.
Is it still called a sunroof when you’re in space?
Anyone know how to fly this thing?
A knob here, some buttons there, that’ll work.
Pilot controls, you must know what all this does.
This is the technology that got us to space.
The pedestal is recessed so the astronauts can stand on it.
Looking out the left side of the shuttle.
This stuff was built in ’79 and it shows.
Looking inside at the lockers.
Sensor A and some other stuff.
The ceiling is covered in dials and buttons.
It’s probably OK to touch the “not used” one?
A window looking out to the back of the shuttle.
There are two top windows in the flight deck.
Keeps things on track.
The gauges look cool!
This controls the robotic arm outside the shuttle.
The view might look something like this.
A hidden sticker someone tucked away.
Banks of screens sit silently.
I wonder what makes this light up?
Where’s the “win” light?
Gauges, gauges everywhere.
Showcasing both the blue and yellow velcro.
Click, click, click
The shuttle must be both an air and space craft.
Another view out the pilot window.
The seats will be installed here.
Timer and other switches.
Landing gear? Check.
The bags for the ropes aka “sky genie”.
This window offers a nice view.
Follow these steps to escape out the panel. What’s the “green apple”?