Space Shuttle Atlantis welcomes guests at Kennedy Space Center

Space Shuttle Atlantis (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two years after flying the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program, Space Shuttle Atlantis is settling into its new home and welcoming guests as part of a new exhibit.

The 90,000-square-foot, $100 million Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opened last month at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to great fanfare as a tribute to NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program.

The exhibit offers a stunning 360-degree view of Atlantis — a view previously seen only by astronauts in space. Atlantis is tilted at a 43.21-degree angle, with its payload doors open and its robotic arm extended, simulating its look immediately after undocking from the International Space Station (ISS).

“There are only three (space shuttles) in the world,” said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “This is the only one in the world displayed like this.”

To enter the building housing the exhibit, guests pass a 184-foot-tall, full-scale replica of the space shuttle’s external tank and two solid rocket boosters. The entrance walkway is lined with rocks from the path Kennedy Space Center’s famous crawlers used to transport Saturn V rockets and space shuttles from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pads.

Following the end of the space shuttle program, NASA gave the space shuttles to museums nationwide for display. The Atlantis replaced a replica orbiter — named Explorer — that was previously on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

“This is where the space shuttle flew from. This is the home of the space shuttle — 135 missions left from here,” Moore said. “To not have it would be really strange.”

In addition to the orbiter, the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit includes a high-fidelity replica of the Hubble Space Telescope, training simulators, interactive activities, artifacts and a 4,000-square-foot gift shop.

Some facts about Atlantis (courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex):

— Atlantis’s official name is Orbiter Vehicle 104 or OV-104.

— The shuttle flew 33 missions, logged more than 126 million miles and spent 307 days in space.

— A total of 207 astronauts flew on Atlantis.

— Construction of Atlantis began on March 3, 1980. The orbiter was completed in about half the time in man-hours spent on Columbia, the first shuttle.

— The shuttle weighed 151,315 pounds when it rolled out of the assembly plant in Palmdale, Calif. That’s 3.5 tons lighter than Columbia.

— Atlantis is 122.17 feet long, has a wingspan of 78.06 feet and the orbiter is 57 feet tall — the same dimensions of the other orbiters.

— Atlantis launched on her maiden space flight, mission STS 51-J, on Oct. 3, 1985. The shuttle carried a classified payload for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

— Atlantis flew the final space shuttle mission, STS 135, from July 8-21, 2011. She carried more than 9,400 pounds of spare parts, spare equipment and other supplies to the ISS.

The other space shuttles are on display at the California Space Center in Los Angeles (Endeavor) and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. (Discovery). Other space shuttle replicas or mockups are on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. (Pathfinder); the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York (Enterprise); and the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (Explorer).

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About Todd DeFeo 1474 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and