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Independence Plaza

Independence Plaza is a monumental, 240-ton complex standing just adjacent to Space Center Houston. It’s the newest attraction at Space Center Houston, the official visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center and the cornerstone of the nonprofit Manned Space Flight Education Foundation. The historic Independence Plaza exhibit features a replica space shuttle mounted atop an actual Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). The carrier is one of two Boeing 747 airliners extensively modified by NASA to transport space shuttles, primarily from landing sites to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Both the shuttle and the SCA are considered Interactive Exhibits – Space Center Houston is an affiliate of the Smithsonian – and the interiors of both house extensive collections of irreplaceable artifacts as well as informative displays. This exhibit serves to educate the public about the history of the shuttle era and to convey its impact on current and future space exploration.

MLN was hired by Space Center Houston to serve as a design-assist mechanical contractor for the Independence Plaza project. As such, MLN provided HVAC, Plumbing, a Fire Protection Sprinkler System, and Building Management System for the shuttle and its transport carrier. The project team’s primary objective was to retain the historical integrity of both craft, while ensuring that the shuttle and Boeing 747 function like any other part of the museum. The Smithsonian Display Standards were the basis of the design, which means that temperature and humidity controls had to meet strict exhibit standards. NASA would not allow irreplaceable artifacts to be displayed were these standards not satisfied. The building’s safety system had to meet code as well, just like any other public space. Meeting code sounds simple until one considers that neither the shuttle nor the plane have ceilings or other areas where mechanical systems are typically installed.

  • Work Performed

    HVAC, Plumbing, a Fire Protection Sprinkler System and Building Management System

  • Project Type


  • Location

    Houston, Texas

  • Owner/Developer

    Space Center

  • Architect


  • Engineer

    Structural: KCI Technologies/ESPA Corp & Civil: Jacobs

  • MEP Engineer