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Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, Kennedy Space Center

Like many aging folks, the Space Shuttle Atlantis moved to Florida after being forcibly retired after 30 years of loyal service.  Having completed 33 NASA space missions in its career, Atlantis has a new home and will have l-o-t-s of visitors.


Kennedy Space Center, Florida

 (Entrance to the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit)


The Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opened June 2013 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  At the robust cost of $100 million (not counting the value of the shuttle orbiter itself), the attraction and five story building housing it is fascinating, captivating and well worth seeing.  The 90,000 square-foot building is a highlight of any visit to the Kennedy Space Center. 


Kennedy Space Center, Florida

 (Model of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and its rockets)


The other three retired space shuttles -- at Washington, D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum, Los Angeles’ California Science Center, and New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum -- sit in a flat horizontal position.  Atlantis has been raised 30 feet (9 meters) into the air and angled 45 degrees to the side.  Atlantis’ payload bay is open and one of the Canadarm robitic arms is extended, the positioning designed to give the illusion of seeing the orbiter while it was still in flight.   A dynamic static image, if you will.

  Kennedy Space Center Florida 2013 233 LC39A Configured For Shuttle

(Launch pad 39a, Cape Canaveral, still configured for shuttle take-offs) 


You enter the Atlantis exhibit through a 184-foot-tall (56 m) replica of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters and external tank (the ones whose malfunction caused the Challenger tragedy), their size giving you some idea of the scale of the Shuttle which was much larger than I thought it would be.   As you enter the exhibit, you walk up a ramp with interesting murals and photos of the Shuttle, and quotes from various personal worked on the Shuttle program.


Kennedy Space Center, Florida

(Your first view of the Atlantis as you enter its auditorium) 


At the top of the ramp, visitors enter the first of a series of theaters that introduce and build an appreciation for the shuttle’s history.  With the completion of the final video, the projection screen becomes transparent to show you the nose of the Atlantis Orbiter just a few meters ahead of you.   This is definitely why you came and you’ll have plenty of time to walk around, behind and underneath Atlantis, and also to enjoy the many special exhibits in its auditorium.  Of course you are not allowed to enter the shuttle itself but there’s a partial mock-up you can get in.


Kennedy Space Center, Florida

 (Space Shuttle Atlantis) 


Besides seeing the shuttle, a highlight for me was a full-size detailed replica of the Hubble Space Telescope and a space-walking astronaut.  Integrated into the exhibit hall is the Shuttle Launch Experience, a motion simulator (opened in 2007) that gives you a simulation of the experience of a liftoff and ascent into space.


Kennedy Space Center, Florida

(Space Shuttle Atlantis' cargo bay and robotic arm)


Atlantis was the fourth (and the next-to-the-last) Space Shuttle to be constructed by Rockwell in Southern California.  It was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in April 1985.  The last mission of Atlantis (STS-135) was also the last flight of the Shuttle program.  In its many missions it launched interplanetary probes, satellites, repaired the Hubble Space Telescope, brought supplies to build and outfit the International Space Station and Mir Space Station.  By the end of its final mission, Atlantis had orbited the Earth almost 5000 times, traveling nearly 126,000,000 miles (203,000,000 km) in space or more than 525 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.


Kennedy Space Center, Florida

(The underside of the Atlantis space shuttle)


For anyone interested in space travel, this is a destination worth traveling some distance to see.


Images (12)
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Side view of the new $100,000,000 Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Actual sized copy of the solid fuel booster rockets positioned by the entrance to the Space Shuttle
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Small model of the shuttle and it's rockets, ready for take-off
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Your first view of the orbiter as you enter its auditorium
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: The nose and astronaut compartment of the orbiter.  Notice the opened cargo bay behind it.
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Atlantis' cargo bay and robotic arm
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Opened cargo bay
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Atlantis' rockets
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: The belly of the space shuttle.  There are thousands of tiles carefully positioned
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Model of the Orbiter's rocket
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Launch pad 39a, Cape Canaveral.  Still configured for the Shuttle lift-offs.
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida: Burned metal panels from the shuttle's launch pad.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Comments (5)

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Thanks for an orbit of memory lane!


I think for me the most amazing aspect of the whole space program is how we have moved from each launch being a major news event before, during and after to seeing space in the papers only when something goes wrong--and these days, it seems to be mostly plumbing issues on the International Space Station.


Looking at the's amazing how big some aspects are, and how small the actual shuttle is!

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Thanks for the comments, guys!  The entire shuttle is actually much longer than I'd thought, maybe 180 ft.  What was surprising is how small the living/pilot compartment is where the astronauts spent so much time.  It's that space in front of the opened cargo door.


The US space program is just a former shadow of itself with the retirement of the Shuttle program and nothing ready to take its place.  But I was pleased to hear that NASA is working on the Orion project.  It is a rocket based space launch system that will have the potential to reach deep space.   First test rockets to go up in a few years, with manned flights later.  My youngest son is working on his Ph.D in astrophysics, so I'm glad there will be lots of opportunity for him.


I'm thrilled that I lived when man made his first reach out to the stars.  Being a child when the Apollo space program was racking up all its major milestones was tremendously exciting to me.  And the information we've gained form unmanned probes to the outer edges of our solar system are truly incredible.


I'd rank NASA's accomplishments at or near the top of human achievements -- ever.


And I, too, Garry, thrill at watching a space launch.  When Orion takes off I need to be in Cape Canaveral to see one of those in person!  Maybe we could arrange a rendezvous enroute to Cuba!

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

Your comment on the difference between the pilot space and the cargo bay reminded me that a few years ago, one of the astronauts compared the shuttle to a giant pickup truck...

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Last launch I watched was from the East Coast of Florida - maybe near Cocoa Beach.

The Sky was complete darkness, just a few stars and the moon.

We were listening to the launch radio station from about T minus 15 minutes - as NASA described the last minute checks.

A few seconds before launch time you could see the ground at Cape Canaveral illuminated like a bright white flare. The steam from the launch pad turned into a white cloud and on "Zero" the rocket was moving slowly into the air.

For a few seconds it remained silent as the rocket gathered speed.

Where we were standing suddenly lit up - as if by an enormous spotlight !

Then - BANG - the shockwaves of the launch hit you on the chest !

Like standing front of stage when a Rock Band strike up the music.....Wowww.

Wasn't expecting that shocker.

After a few minutes the rocket leaned away from the vertical and off to our right side.

At that angle it was heading straight towards the Moon in the sky.

I passed comment that it was right on target for the Moon. "You're not going to tell me that's a coincidence" .

Lesson learned.

Don't make Monty Python style jokes with Americans.

Last edited by GarryRF
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