CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — The operators of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Delaware North Companies (DNC), are continuing to make progress toward the planned June 29, 2013, opening for its Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. The $100 million structure DNC has constructed is already visible for miles around, and a new element is beginning to emerge that will make it even more noticeable. A life-sized replica of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters (SRBs) is currently under construction.
The crew working to complete the structure use cranes to assemble the simulated SRBs. After this is accomplished, the iconic large, orange external tank will be constructed. When all is said and done, the “high-fidelity” model will serve as a gateway to the Visitor Complex’s newest and most elaborate attraction.
Guests will pass underneath the “arch” formed by the SRBs and ET before entering Atlantis’ new home. This will provide visitors with a view that they were not able to have during the shuttle era, one which should impress upon them the scale of some of the program’s elements.
“It’s one thing for us to announce details and statistics about Space Shuttle Atlantis and its dramatic, 184-foot-tall entrance, but it is quite another to actually be here in person, standing at the foot of these absolutely massive high-fidelity space shuttle components,” said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “Starting June 29, visitors will be able to get up close to the boosters and external tank in a way that only NASA personnel have been able to experience before. Should guests stop for just a moment and imagine the brave astronauts inside Atlantis, strapped to these explosive, fuel-filled SRBs and ET and rocketing into space, goose bumps are guaranteed. And that’s before guests even set foot inside.”
The model SRBs are a little over halfway completed, with each being constructed in six separate stages. During a recent visit to the Visitor Complex, the work currently underway on the SRBs was evident, with cranes moving around the two white boosters and welders hard at work on the internal structure.
When finished, each 12-foot-wide SRB will stand some 149 feet tall and will also serve as support for the ET, which is slated to be installed later this month. In terms of size, the ET is no slouch either; it will be 154 feet tall and more than 27 feet in diameter.
The Visitor Complex’s new Atlantis facility will incorporate a wide range of elements that made the shuttle program possible. This includes the Gaseous Oxygen Vent Arm, or “Beanie Cap,” replicas of the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope and numerous other artifacts of the shuttle era. At its center will be Atlantis herself. Set on her side, with her payload bay doors open, the orbiter will appear as she did during the most active moments of her career.
It is safe to say that without the SRBs and ET, there would not have been a space shuttle program. Each of the boosters, produced by Utah-based ATK, burned through more than 2 million pounds of propellant, sending the shuttles aloft at 3,500 miles per hour. They would function for about two minutes before they were jettisoned. After they safely splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, they were retrieved and reused on subsequent shuttle flights.
Penwal Industries Inc., a California-based company, designed and manufactured the model SRBs and ET.
During her career, Atlantis rode fire to orbit 33 times; she launched satellites and docked with both the Russian space station Mir and the International Space Station (ISS). She also deployed the Galileo spacecraft that journeyed to the gas giant Jupiter, the Magellan probe to Venus, as well as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. Atlantis played a crucial role in the construction of the International Space Station. Atlantis also carried out the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as the last flight of the space shuttle program, STS-135.
All of the efforts at the Visitor Complex are funded through tickets and other sales, not from tax dollars. DNC has stated that the Atlantis Exhibit will be an “immersive” experience that will detail the accomplishments made by the shuttle during the 30 years the program was in existence. The exhibit will encompass some 90,000 square feet, and now stands as the focal point of the Visitor Complex’s long-term master plan.
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It will be a fitting tribute to the Shutlle program and all who made it possible. I’m looking forward to seeing the exhibit! Perhaps monument or other tribute to the Challenger and Columbia astronauts?