Space Shuttle Home Nears Completion In Florida

Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Atlantis has a new home in Florida that is nearing completion. As the latest Space Coast attraction, the new $100-million home of the historic spacecraft will launch June 29 at Kennedy Space Center. Far more than a place to store the used orbiter, the new facility will offer visitors unprecedented access to what was once highly classified hardware, uniquely displayed.

This unique experience delivers extraordinary access to Space Shuttle Atlantis, positioned as if it were in space as only astronauts have seen it before. Suspended 30 feet above ground and rotated at slightly less than a 45-degree angle, Atlantis will have her payload bay doors open and robotic arm (Canadarm) extended. Visitors will be able to view the orbiter from below or via a raised surrounding platform.

With 33 missions in space to the credit of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the exterior has been left as-is for visitors to see the wear on its protective external tiles. Over 60 supporting and interactive exhibits plus high-tech simulators tell the story of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle Program and the amazing engineering that transformed the way humans explore space. Prominently featured is the shuttle program’s role in building the International Space Station as well as the launch and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.While the newest attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, Atlantis is just one feature to be enjoyed by visitors. The Shuttle Launch Experience simulates what it is like to blast off into space. The Rocket Garden features Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put NASA astronauts in space, alongside Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. The Astronaut Training Experience brings visitors realistic astronaut training.

Other exhibits trace the history of America’s space program from its beginning and get into the future of space exploration. Far from a relic of another time and a different NASA focus, the Atlantis exhibit promises to complete an experience that fans of space travel may have only dreamed of until now.

Better yet, the Kennedy Space Center website has a rich array of interactive content including a “countdown until the next launch” timer and an Ask An Astronaut feature that invites visitors to pose questions to those who have actually been there and done that.

About the only part of the space shuttle program that visitors won’t see is an actual launch, but we have one of those for you here in this video:




[Image credit - Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex]

The Final Shuttle Launch and the Future of the Space Coast

About 12 hours before STS-135 was set to blast off for low Earth orbit, my friend Rob and I were driving toward Titusville, Florida with a car full of camping supplies and our fingers crossed. The weather was foul, and the chances of a launch were just 30 percent. But we were in Central Florida to see a blast off, and so to the Space Coast we were headed.

Traveling the American Road – The Last Shuttle Launch: STS135


As we know now, the shuttle did take off as scheduled, making its final graceful, powerful arc into the low clouds, punching through the smallest break in the weather on the way to the International Space Station. It was an exciting, historic moment, made bittersweet by the mass layoffs that would follow the shuttle’s landing on July 21.

The economic impact of the program’s end on the Space Coast will extend beyond the pink slips delivered to now-unneeded engineers and shuttle support staff. As one construction worker I met explained, the estimated 1 million visitors that turned out for the final launch will likely never again come to his hometown. Rooms, restaurants and tours will go empty, leaving the tourism business reliant on seasonal fishing trips and historians of the space age who will trickle in, yes, but not in numbers like those seen this July.

Two days after the launch, I visited Kennedy Space Center, where pride in the 30-year history of the shuttle program is enormous–to the point that no one there seemed to have acknowledged its end. A sign reminded visitors that “NASA centers have embarked on a phased program of expanding and updating the space shuttle’s capabilities” and a short film suggested that “Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see a shuttle on the way to the pad today.” While there was no shortage of visitors that day, I wondered how long the attraction of the place would last without a manned spaceflight program and how long the gift shop would continue selling out of STS-135 merchandise.

Driving away from the Space Coast, we stopped for a bite at Corky Bells, a seafood restaurant in Cocoa, Florida, very close to the Space Center. Near the register at the entryway was a doorknob from its original location, engulfed by a fire sparked by Hurricane Frances in 2004. The restaurant moved into its current building, reconnected with its regulars and kept serving heaping platters of fried crabs, clams, shrimp and fish. Lunch was excellent, but without launch-day crowds, will Corky’s weather the coast’s latest storm?