Evening light begins to fade at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (later redesignated Armstrong Flight Research Center), Edwards, Calif., as technicians begin the task of mounting the Space Shuttle Atlantis atop NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for the ferry flight back to the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., following its STS-44 flight Nov. 24 through Dec. 1, 1991. After 38 years, the grey-colored space shuttle Mate-Demate Device (MDD) at Edwards Air Force Base is being dismantled and demolished as a part of the final chapter in the U.S. space shuttle program. (NASA courtesy photo)
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A structure synonymous with NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center for the past 38 years, the grey-colored space shuttle Mate-Demate Device (MDD) at Edwards Air Force Base is being dismantled and demolished as a part of the final chapter in the U.S. space shuttle program.
The decision comes three years after the shuttle program ended and six years since it last supported turnaround operations after the last shuttle landing at Edwards.
"People at this base know that the MDD has definitely become a part of the landscape. When you drive onto base, it's one of the landmarks you see, and it will leave a hole in your heart when it's gone, but this process is part of the nature of the programs we work out here. When the equipment is no longer needed, it's in the best interest of the taxpayer to not continue to maintain and upkeep unused structures," said David McBride, NASA Armstrong Center director.
Being one of only two such structures built, the MDD at NASA Armstrong is being dismantled by Pantano Demolition of Manteca, California, under a $178,700 contract. The firm plans to recycle as much of the steel used in the structure as possible for future reutilization.
"Even though it's a steel structure, you just can't ignore it, because even in the desert things corrode and rust. While there is funding and interest, it's better to demolish it and get it safely out of here," McBride said. "Since there's a market for reusing the scrap steel, somehow that steel will come back to life somewhere."
According to NASA's AFRC Public Affairs Office, the shuttle-specific MDD was reviewed for possible reuse for other potential project work, but no projects requiring its specialized capabilities were found. It is being dismantled and then demolished in accordance with federal regulations regarding retention or demolition of unused federal facilities.
"This really did take a team effort. Edwards AFB has always been a key partner with everything we've done here to include all the support with the entire shuttle program during its tenure," added McBride.
The 110-foot tall, gantry-like MDD structure was used for de-servicing the space shuttles after they landed at Edwards Air Force Base and for lifting and placing them on NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for their ferry flights back to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Constructed in 1976 at a cost of $1.7 million, the MDD was first used in 1977 for the prototype shuttle orbiter Enterprise's approach and landing tests. It was last used for turnaround operations of the shuttle Discovery following its STS-128 mission that landed at Edwards in 2009. In total, it supported 59 shuttle landings over 32 years, five in the Approach and Landings Tests with the prototype shuttle Enterprise in 1977 and 54 orbital missions after their return from space.