Video courtesy of AmericaSpace with NASA elements
TITUSVILLE, Fla — During the space shuttle era, one of the most iconic moments of any of the missions was the orbiter’s rapid drop to the hard Earth below to the Shuttle Landing Facility, or “SLF.” Heralded by twin sonic booms, it served as an exciting close to a mission on orbit. This key milestone was one of many involving the program that the public had little chance of experiencing firsthand—until now.
Located at Arthur Dunn AirPark, The Shuttle Landing Experience is owned by John Godfrey, a veteran pilot with 37 years of experience under his belt. Guests can pay $49 per seat (with a two-person minimum) and now fly over the Kennedy Space Center and just 100 feet above the SLF before returning to Arthur Dunn AirPark, which is located just five minutes off of I-95 and a short distance from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
For visitors to Florida’s Space Coast, The Shuttle Landing Experience provides a unique opportunity to see the space center in a manner that few—outside of astronauts, pilots, and NASA officials—have seen before.
I was fortunate enough to travel with Cmdr. Chris Ferguson as he practiced landing the shuttle in the NASA Shuttle Training Aircraft, or “STA,” in the lead-up to the final space shuttle mission, STS-135.
The STA is a modified Grumman Gulfstream II designed to mimic the shuttle’s flight profile. During STS-135’s Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), Ferguson took the airplane aloft and then nosed the aircraft down, emulating what he would do on July 21, 2011. During this TCDT, Ferguson looped around and practiced landing nine times. For someone ill at ease with flying, it was a daunting experience.
Ferguson took us to about 20,000 feet and then took us into a steep dive similar to what the shuttle does upon approach. It is enough to provide the sensation of weightlessness (which was quickly countered when we pulled up for our next pass). Thankfully, Godfrey has different levels that guests can choose to better suit their flying “comfort level.”
— Level One: This level consists of a loop around the intercoastal waterway with sights including large portions of the space center with a low approach to the Shuttle Landing Facility at about 100 feet. After this pass, guests are returned to Arthur Dunn AirPark.
— Level Two: This intermediate level, while not as dramatic as what the astronauts encountered, does offer a somewhat similar experience, taking them up to 10,000 feet and at a somewhat similar approach.
— Level Three: This is for the true space enthusiast. Guests are taken up to 15,000 feet and then brought down to the SLF at a 17 degree glide angle—very similar to how the orbiter’s returned to Earth.
Guests have begun to flock to The Shuttle Landing Experience in an effort to see for themselves what it was like to return to Earth in the space shuttle.
“I felt very comfortable going up with John Godfrey; he’s an excellent pilot who has done everything one could to make you comfortable and to provide you with an incredible experience. I actually think he should charge more; it’s well worth it,” said Dean Freeman, who took his family on The Shuttle Landing Experience. “I watched the shuttle launches for years, and to be able to fly right over where they landed the shuttle … It was an absolute blast. To be able to gain such a unique perspective of Kennedy Space Center, see the beautiful beaches, and then to all but land at the SLF? You just can’t beat it.”
This is an opinion-based review of The Shuttle Landing Experience.
Want to keep up-to-date with all things space? Be sure to “Like” AmericaSpace on Facebook and follow us on Twitter:@AmericaSpace