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Full-size space station mockup closes with end of Fry's Electronics

February 24, 2021

— The International Space Station has gone out of business — in a Houston suburb.

Fry's Electronics closed all of its retail stores on Wednesday (Feb. 24), including its Webster, Texas location, which featured a one-of-a-kind, full-scale mockup of the sprawling orbital complex. The real International Space Station (ISS) remains in operation, overseen by the flight controllers at the nearby NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry's Electronics, Inc. has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic," the company said in a statement posted Wednesday to its website.

The closures bring to an end the family-run business, which became known for building each of its stores around a different, often elaborate theme, including the Egyptian pyramids, the lost city of Atlantis and the story of "Alice in Wonderland." The Burbank, California location featured a retro-sci-fi theme from Hollywood and the Anaheim store included a space shuttle flight deck.

The Fry's in Webster, which opened in 2004, set itself apart by having something that not even NASA or any of international partners have: a life-size representation of the ISS spanning the length of a football field. (Johnson Space Center's training facility has mockups of each of the modules, but omits the truss and solar arrays.)

Contained within a building that itself was shaped to resemble the space station's modules and truss segments, the ISS mockup sat among — and above — aisles of computer and electronic products. Oversized modules served as demonstration rooms and a cafe.

Though not entirely accurate to the configuration of the space station deployed in orbit, the Fry's ISS did include representations of its major elements, including the U.S. Destiny lab, Quest airlock and Cupola; Russia's Zvezda service module and Zarya functional cargo block (FGB); Japan's Kibo laboratory modules; and the European Space Agency's Columbus lab. Mounted to a simplified truss backbone was a replica of the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

The store's space station also featured a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on approach to a docking with the ISS, as well as astronauts (mannequins) in spacesuits out on "spacewalks" around the complex.

As customers first entered the store, they walked under another visiting spacecraft — NASA's X-38 emergency crew return vehicle. One of two mockups of the re-entry craft, it was one of the few details that was outdated from the start. The X-38 was canceled in 2002, two years before the store opened. (Another example was the inclusion of the NASDA logo on some of the modules, the predecessor agency to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, that was founded in 2003.)

Given the store's theme, the Webster Fry's became a draw for space enthusiasts visiting the nearby Space Center Houston and other space-related locations in the Houston-area. For at some time during the store's run, it catered to this audience by selling packages of astronaut freeze-dried ice cream and several other space-themed souvenirs.

As of Wednesday there was no word what was to become of the space station or any of the installations in the other Fry's stores.

"The company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the company, its creditors and other stakeholders," Fry's stated on its website. "It is hoped that undertaking the wind-down through this orderly process will reduce costs, avoid additional liabilities, minimize the impact on our customers, vendors, landlords and associates, and maximize the value of the company's assets for its creditors and other stakeholders."


A full size mockup of the International Space Station stretched over shoppers heads at Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas. The chain of stores closed on Feb. 24, 2021. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

The exterior of Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas was shaped to resemble space station modules. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

A full-size mockup of NASA's proposed X-38 crew return vehicle was one of the first things shoppers saw when entering Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

A mockup of Japan's Kibo laboratory extends from the U.S. segment of the International Space Station inside Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas. The store, which opened in 2004, included representations of the major components of the orbital complex. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

The Canadarm2 robotic arm extends in front of the space station's solar arrays in Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

Mockups of the Russian Zvezda service module and Zarya functional cargo block "orbit" above customers and an oversized module serving as a cafe inside Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft approaches a docking with the space station inside Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

The football-field-length mock International Space Station spanned the length of Fry's Electronics in Webster, Texas. (Brian Ewenson/collectSPACE)

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