On Thursday, December 27th I was given a tour of the continuing progress of the new Atlantis exhibit hall at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The 100 million dollar building, which has yet to be officially named, will tell the story of the Space Shuttle Program through movies, interactive exhibits and displays. The centerpiece of the building is orbiter Atlantis, which travelled into space 33 times for a total of 306 days spent in space.
Atlantis arrived at the new building in early November. During the following weeks, Atlantis was lifted off of the Orbiter Transport System that she was rolled over on, landing gear was removed and then she was wrapped in a loose fitting protective covering similar to that used on boats in storage. Over the course of a week crews from Beyel Brothers and Ivey construction jacked the orbiter up and then tilted it to a 43.21 degree angle, 4321, get it? The work to Atlantis is complete for now while focus is shifted to the building around her. In mid-March the protective wrapping will be removed and the payload bay doors will be opened in April. The exhibit will open to the public in July 2012.
This is the first time I had seen Atlantis since she arrived at the complex in November. After seeing photos of the exhibit from others it looked as if the orbiter was really crammed into the building. My tour eased those fears and although the clearances are quite tight, visitors will be just out of arms reach and able to view all the small details, which usually go unnoticed. With the viewing platform nearly eye level to the windows of the flight deck, it is my hope that the interior will be illuminated in some way so visitors can take a peak inside.
From the floor visitors will be able to gaze up at a nearly unobstructed view of the belly of Atlantis, this will be the only orbiter display where this will be possible. When I photographed the final lift and mate of Atlantis inside the Vehicle Assembly Building during May 2011, one of the things I remember most was gazing up at the belly as she hung from the ceiling. Seeing the profile of the orbiter and worn tiles from that angle was just awesome.
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