Historic Space Shuttle Mockup Stored in Downey, California
‘Inspiration‘ was built in 1972 by North American Rockwell (now part of Boeing) at the company’s plant in Downey, California. Crafted mainly from wood and plastic, the 122 foot-long by 35 foot-tall model was used to fit-check payloads, instruments and other in-flight hardware that would ultimately be pressed into service on operational orbiters.
With the flight programme underway and more orbiters rolling off the production line – the final one being Endeavour in 1992 as a replacement for Challenger, which was tragically destroyed on lift-off in 1986 – Space Shuttle Inspiration was retained by Rockwell at its Downey assembly plant, but was largely unknown to those unconnected with the NASA space programme.
Photo: Aaron Harvey
In addition to its ground test duties, the Space Shuttle mockup also doubled as a PR tool when government officials and astronauts visited the facility. But when the plant closed down in 1999 with the building that housed Inspiration was converted into a movie studio, the orphaned aerospace artifact was pushed to the side. Less its port wing and tail fin, which had been removed shortly after construction, Space Shuttle ‘Inspiration’ was disassembled and placed into storage at the historic site, where all of NASA’s orbiters had been built.
Photo: Aaron Harvey
That was until around 2012, when Industrial Realty Group (IRG) acquired 77 acres of the former North American Rockwell facility in Downey in a bid to build a shopping mall on the historic site. Demolition of Downey Studios began later that year and ‘Inspiration’ emerged from the shadows as plans were made for its preservation and display.
The tent allowed visitors to see the Space Shuttle mockup – which for decades played an important role in the NASA programme – up close for the first time in Inspiration’s history. It was also around this time that the previously unnamed test article was christened – not to be confused with another full scale orbiter mockup called ‘Inspiration’, which is on display at the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida.
According to the Long Beach Press Telegram, the city of Downey received a $3 million federal loan in 2013 in order to establish an ‘Inspiration Neighborhood Center’. But as of March 6, 2014 the Space Shuttle mockup was back in storage at the city’s maintenance yard.