Alabama museum to restore full-sized mockup of space shuttle

Published 4:11 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama plans to restore the world’s only full-sized mockup of a space shuttle mated with an external fuel tank and twin rocket boosters.

The project announced Tuesday will restore a display that’s been weathering outside the museum in Huntsville for more than 30 years. The work is being funded with a $500,000 federal grant and additional corporate donations.

A shuttle test model called Pathfinder was coupled with a huge fuel tank and two prototype solid-rocket boosters for display at the state-owned museum in 1988. The multimillion refurbishment will take several years to remove the display, repair it and replace it back on a giant concrete stand.

Consisting of a shuttle-shaped metal frame covered with sheeting, Pathfinder was originally used to test ground handling, transportation and other procedures needed for the space shuttle. Once testing was done and it wasn’t needed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Pathfinder was outfitted with fiberglass, plywood panels and engines to more closely resemble an actual shuttle.

Pathfinder was displayed in Japan in 1983 and ’84 before being moved to Huntsville, the museum said in an announcement.
The restoration project was delayed from last year because of the severe financial impact of the pandemic-related shutdown of the museum.