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NASA visitors center looks to donations to display shuttle aircraft

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The countdown is underway for a space shuttle training aircraft.

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A Gulfstream II aircraft used to train space shuttle pilots is the subject of a public fundraiser by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to assist in the jet's installation at the Alabama space museum.

NASA gave the Gulfstream II shuttle training aircraft over to the Marshall Space Flight Center's visitor's center in 2012, and since that time the museum has been preparing a site located near a full scale mock-up of the space shuttle stack and a T-38 jet.

''It's a 'flying flight simulator', the highest fidelity simulated experience you could have for flight training without being in the actual air or space craft itself," John Ramsey, Chairman of the Space Camp Advancement Alumni Board, said of the shuttle training aircraft. "It's pretty unique in that regard."

The space center is over the halfway mark in meeting it's goal of $70,000 with a May 3 deadline fast approaching.

NASA astronauts, engineers and Space Camp alumni have even stepped in to assist with the fundraiser as the deadline nears.

"The Land the STA Indiegogo campaign has been an amazing experience," Trevor Daniels, STA project manager, said on Thursday. "We have seen outstanding support from Space Camp and Aviation Challenge alumni, friends of the Center, and space and aviation enthusiasts from around the world."

Daniels mentioned contributions toward the STA project have been received from across five countries.

The NASA 945 Gulfstream II was flown by NASA astronauts at both the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Edwards, AFB in California during the shuttle program.

"A Shuttle Training Aircraft plunges 28,000 feet in a little more than a minute when astronauts use it to practice a space shuttle approach," explained NASA's Steve Siceloff at the Kennedy Space Center. "It’s as close as anyone can get to experiencing a shuttle landing without becoming an astronaut -- and what a ride it is."

The shuttle trainer was also flown by astronauts to perform weather observations for the space shuttle on launch day to ensure winds or rain would not threaten its flight.

Once in place at the space center, visitors and camp attendees will have a chance to go inside the aircraft and view the cockpit's interior, a treat for any aviation or space buff.

The STA project is also handing out dozens of space-related gifts to those who donate.

Three special donations will allow someone and their guest to fly with NASA astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson as he pilots his Beechcraft Bonanza over the Huntsville area.

To donate, the Space and Rocket Center has established a web safe donation site.

The NASA visitor's center is home to hundreds of rare artifacts from the early days of the space program through the shuttle years.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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