- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)

c.2013 Houston Chronicle< CLEAR LAKE - A crane lifted the space shuttle replica Independence nearly three stories high Thursday to its resting place atop a Boeing 747 transport plane at Space Center Houston.

The delicate lift to the crown of the 63-foot 747 took about 40 minutes as hundreds of spectators watched.

The 122-foot Independence was attached to a 200-foot tall crane operated by Mammoet, a Dutch company whose U.S. offices are based in Rosharon, Brazoria County.

”What is so spectacular here is that we are able to contribute to a piece of history,” said Guus Stigter, Mammoet’s director of global key accounts.

The lift was challenging because of the awkward weight distribution of the replica and the safety concerns for the hundreds of spectators, Stigter said.

The crane lifted the replica to a height of 150 feet before lowering it onto the back of the shuttle plane, NASA 905, sitting on a 15-inch concrete foundation.

The Clear Lake Suzuki Strings with musicians from Pasadena’s Rayburn High School played variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” interspersed with recorded music, during the lift.

The wind caught the wings and made it sway as it was being lowered, a tense moment for Space Center Houston CEO Richard E. Allen Jr. “The wind was the biggest concern we had and for whatever reason we got a gust,” Allen said. But Mammoet workers had the Independence tethered to long lines they used to stabilize it and the docking went on without a hitch. Workers began welding the replica in place as soon as the match was complete.

”It’s really, really amazing,” said Tam Tran, 46, who brought sons Phillip, 12, and Austin, 10 to watch the marriage of aircraft and spacecraft. “I think it’s cool because they had the space shuttle and they added the plane to make it a bigger landmark,” Phillip said.

Visitors will eventually be able to enter the replica cockpit, the mid-level shuttle compartment and the 747 through a tower equipped with a staircase and two elevators, Allen said. Space Center Houston is $2.2 million short of the $12 million it needs to complete the exhibit.

”It’s a celebration of our past accomplishments,” said John Elbon, Boeing Space Exploration vice president. “Even more important, it’s an opportunity to look forward … and inspire the next generation of kids.”

The lift to the top of the 747 is the final step in a long journey to Houston that began more than two years ago at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The replica was shipped by barge across the Gulf of Mexico in May 2012 and unloaded at the Johnson Space Center barge dock on Clear Lake. It took a full day to lift the replica from the barge and weld it onto a transporter, then three hours to move it a mile to Space Center Houston.

The 747, used to transport space shuttles from landing sites in California and New Mexico back to the launch site in Florida, was moved to Space Center Houston in April from Ellington Field, an 8-mile journey that required breaking the aircraft into nine parts and reassembling them at the Space Center.

The Independence then had to make another 400-yard journey on a special transporter to the spot where the final lift was made Thursday. XXX - End of Story<3D>

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