HOUSTON – The spaceship that never left earth arrived by sea Friday as Explorer continued its journey to Space Center Houston.
The trickiest part of the trip was floating under the Kemah-Seabrook Bridge. They timed it during low tide but it was still a pretty tight squeeze for the 54-foot-high spaceship.
Boats, jet skis and wind surfers were on Clear Lake to welcome Explorer to its new home.
Hundreds of people also gathered on the shores for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a shuttle on the water.
Among those watching were astronauts who flew aboard the real shuttles. Astronaut Rex Walheim understands why some Houstonians who still bitter about not getting the real deal.
"Everybody’s disappointed we didn’t get a shuttle here in Houston. I mean, as a Houstonian for the last sixteen years, I would’ve loved to have seen one of the vehicles come here to Houston," Walheim said. "One of the nice things the mockup can get you that the real shuttle can’t is that you can go inside."
The shuttle was greeted with a with traditional water salute as it approached the docks near the Nassau Bay Hilton Friday afternoon.
The arrival kicked off Shuttlebration Weekend, featuring parties, parades and fireworks.
It will take workers all day Saturday to lift the replica off the barge and weld it to a transporter, so no public events are scheduled.
The transporter will then carry the Explorer about a mile to Space Center Houston during an early morning parade on Sunday. The trip is expected to take about three hours.
There will be a free party in the Space Center Houston parking lot from 9 a.m. to noon when the Explorer arrives.
The 123-foot reproduction was loaded on a barge docked at Kennedy Space Center last Thursday for the piggyback ride to Houston.
It was towed through the Gulf of Mexico by a small tug boat called Lost Sea.
Explorer has been on display at the Kennedy Space Center since 1994. NASA decided to move it to Houston as a consolation prize for not getting a real space shuttle.
Houston officials had alleged NASA’s decision last year to not award the city one of the agency’s four retired shuttles was politically motivated. Many Houstonians were offended by the decision, as the city is home to Johnson Space Center and Mission Control. But NASA’s watchdog group said the agency acted properly.