Imagine the space shuttle on two wheels, rolling down the highway.
If you can't picture this, then picture the shuttle morphed into a "chopper" style motorcycle, and you will have a concept of the Space Shuttle Tribute Bike, which should be rolling into Kennedy Space Center soon after the real shuttle lands from its return flight into space.
Space Shuttle Tribute Bike committee has teamed up with the popular Discovery Channel television show "American Chopper" to build a motorcycle that will pay homage to the space program and all the people whose work has made the shuttle fly.
The Teutel family of Orange County Choppers — Paul Sr., Paul Jr. and Mikey — are the stars of "American Chopper." The family toured Johnson Space Center in Houston on April 25 to gather inspiration for the Shuttle Bike's design concept and to film for an upcoming episode about the building of the Shuttle Tribute Bike.
For their first NASA adventure, Paul Jr. and Mikey flew in the Motion-based Simulator with Astronaut Alan Poindexter as their guide.
"I loved it," said Paul Jr. "It was awesome. I know it's a rare opportunity, so to be able to say we were in the flight simulator and went up is pretty cool."
"You get strapped in, hear a lot of jargon, and then you land," Mikey said with a smile.
The Teutel family toured the Mission Control Center's shuttle flight control rooms, led by Ginger Kerrick and Kwatsi Alibaruho, who are flight directors of the recently selected class of 2005. The men of OCC also toured JSC's training and mockup facility, viewed a spacewalk tool display and experimented with the "goo" developed for use in on-orbit shuttle tile repair.
The Teutels met Center Director Jefferson D. Howell Jr. and had lunch with the tribute bike committee, where Space Shuttle Program Manager William Parsons presented to them a framed, flown flag and certificate commemorating their visit to NASA.
Hundreds of JSC employees crowded into the Teague Auditorium that afternoon for an address from the famed biker family. Each family member made a statement about his enthusiasm to be working on a bike for NASA, then fielded questions from employees.
Some members of the NASA family expressed their appreciation for the show and the Teutels' willingness to build the Shuttle Bike; others joked with Paul Sr. about his "intense" conversations with Paul Jr. on the show — and a few just wanted a hug from the guys.
Although the whole team will have input, Paul Jr. will be in charge of designing the concept for the Shuttle Bike, which they will begin building next week. He hopes to have a piece of shuttle memorabilia to use as his focal point, like a rear tire that was part of the vehicle's landing gear.
"I would love to have a piece of memorabilia to incorporate into the bike," Paul Jr. said. "I would make everything work around it."
He said that another idea is to add some space-based technology to the Shuttle Bike that is not typically seen on a chopper, such as LCD screens or even a global positioning system. However they decide to build it, it will be reminiscent of the space shuttle in chopper form.
The Teutels said they felt honored and are excited to build the Shuttle Bike and contribute to the spirit of returning the shuttle to flight.
"The whole space program and going into space is fascinating," Paul Jr. said. "It will definitely be awesome to have our own shuttles going into space again."
This will not be the first bike that OCC has built with a special meaning behind it. The team has built bikes for various causes, such as the Fire Bike, which was created to honor firefighters and other emergency personnel who gave their lives on Sept. 11.
"The Shuttle Bike is right up there with the Fire Bike," Paul Jr. said. "We're really excited to be a part of going back into space, and we just want to be involved."
"We have been given a lot," Paul Sr. said. "One of the rewards is to be able to give back because we have been so fortunate, and it makes you feel good about what you're doing."
If their schedule allows, the Teutels might visit KSC for an unveiling of the Shuttle Tribute Bike after Discovery and her crew return safely to Earth.
Paul Jr. summed up the team's enthusiasm for the project.
"It's NASA," he said, "so it really doesn't get much bigger or cooler than that!"