Atlantis, resembling some bizarre mummy, rests shrink wrapped with 16,000 square feet of a white plastic coating—to protect her from dust and dirt as work went on inside the unfinished structure, which will be her new home. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, operated by Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, escorted members of the media on a tour of the building and the work being done to complete it in time for its opening, currently slated to take place in the summer of next year.
Teamwork, according to Director of Project Development and Construction, Tim Macy, for Delaware North Corporation, is the crucial element required to tilt and lift Atlantis. Three local Brevard County-based companies—contractors Ivey’s Construction and Beyel Bros. Crane & Rigging, along with engineers from BRPH—completed the task.
To prepare for the lifting process, a full-scale, full-weight gravity model on a square frame was created and tested at Beyel Bros. yard on Merritt Island to ensure the orbiter actually could be lifted and tilted as proposed.
“One of the most critical elements on the rotation was having the center of gravity in the correct spot, this was done with a combination of digital scales,” said Beyel Spokesman Steve Beyel.
Forward jacks were used to raise Atlantis high enough to lower the landing gear and then back the Orbiter Transporter System (OTS), a 76-wheeled vehicle used to transport the shuttles from underneath Atlantis. The OTS was used to move Atlantis from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KCS) Vehicle Assembly Building over to her new permanent 90,000 square-foot facility at the Visitor Complex.
Support frames were connected to fittings on Atlantis enabling four 800-ton jacks, formerly used at the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), to gradually raise the orbiter, using dunnage to support the weight of the orbiter during the process.
Atlantis was raised about 30 feet off the ground, and at this point the tilting process began, using two jacks to lower Atlantis on the portside (left) and two jacks to raise the orbiter on the starboard side (right). A piece of steel supported the orbiter as the center of gravity changed during the tilting process.
“At no time was the shuttle more than two inches off its dunnage as cribbing was added in case a jack should have failed during the lift and tilt process,” Macy explained.
What was learned from the test model was transferred over to the actual tilt at the Visit Complex. The tilt was completed one day ahead of schedule. The next milestones will be unwrapping Atlantis from its shrink wrap in March 2013, opening the payload doors in April 2013, and the grand opening slated for July 2013. Atlantis will be the only shuttle that will be viewed as if she is in space, as if leaving the International Space Station.