In collaboration with collectSPACE
Changes are taking place along NASA Causeway, the stretch of road leading to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida’s Brevard County. For those who have driven past the former Space Camp Florida/U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame building in Titusville, the space shuttle mockup “Inspiration” has been a grand roadside vision since its inception in 1992. These days, the old Hall of Fame is closed, and Inspiration has fallen into disrepair after years of not being used.
However, a company called LVX System intends to “save” the orbiter for future use as an educational and marketing vehicle, touring it across America using barges, showing it to those who have never seen one of the United States’ flagship space vehicles. The first phase in Inspiration’s newest “mission” began Saturday, Jan. 16, as the mock orbiter was towed via barge across the Indian River to a Beyel Brothers Crane and Rigging’s work yard located in Merritt Island, where it will undergo extensive upgrades. Beyel Brothers, based out of Cocoa, was also noted to have transported the high-fidelity shuttle mockup “Explorer” (now Independence) to Space Center Houston, and Atlantis, the flown orbiter displayed at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC).
Inspiration’s Big Move
CollectSPACE.com reported that Inspiration left its mounts around 9:30 a.m. EST, and was placed on a transporter for approximately half a mile which took it to the barge, where it then left on a four-hour river trek. The website added, “Acquired by LVX System, a company working with NASA to develop new means of visual light-based communications, the ‘Inspiration’ will be outfitted with a state-of-the-art immersive theater experience and a detailed crew cabin before it leaves on a barge for America’s waterways, bringing the space shuttle to new audiences.”
In its past, Inspiration had been outfitted with a 72-seat theater within its “cargo bay,” and also staged simulated missions inside a crew cabin during its Space Camp Florida days. However, it has not been used in years, and had fallen into a state of dilapidation. According to LVX System CEO John Pederson, who was cited in a related collectSPACE article, “It was so far gone it needed to be destroyed. When we [initially] expressed interest, we were denied its use because really, it was virtually condemned and it was set for destruction.”
Pederson pledged to NASA that LVX would restore Inspiration to health, stating to collectSPACE: “We have already probably spent in excess of half a million dollars fixing it up. We will probably spend in the neighborhood of $5 million when it’s all finished.” The article underscored that additional welds had to be made to strengthen the structure just so it would survive the move, forcing the shuttle to “gain” 20,000 pounds of steel. It is estimated the upgrades may take “upwards of a year to develop the plan for the Inspiration’s tour and complete the work to upgrade it accordingly.”
Heroes, Shuttles Continue To Fascinate
The move of Inspiration isn’t the only thing to have changed along NASA Causeway in the last year. As mentioned before, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, which opened in 1990, was closed in early November 2015. It will be incorporated into a new attraction at KSCVC called “Heroes and Legends,” which is scheduled to open this year where the “Early Space Exploration” exhibit was previously housed.
The groundbreaking ceremony for Heroes and Legends took place in late May 2015, a day before the year’s U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame induction ceremony. KSCVC stated then that the new exhibit “will not only bring to life the enthralling stories of America’s pioneering astronauts, but also invite guests to vicariously experience the thrills and dangers of America’s earliest missions through high-tech elements and special effects, including simulated holograms and augmented reality.” It will boast a 3-D omni-directional theater, designed to make visitors feel as if they are actually floating in space. The building that previously housed the Hall of Fame is home to Camp Kennedy Space Center and the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), and is now known as the ATX Center.
In a related note, the shuttle mockup Independence, perched atop a shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905, is part of Space Center Houston’s “Independence Plaza” attraction, which will open on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 23. Guests will be able to see exhibits within the shuttle and aircraft, and the grand opening will be attended by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Jr., and Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa (both shuttle astronauts). According to Space Center Houston, the opening will also boast fireworks, skydivers, hands-on science activities, and other live presentations.
While the shuttle era may be over with Atlantis having flown its last flight five years ago this July, the ubiquitous winged space vehicle continues to “inspire” (pardon the pun) young and older audiences alike. And this weekend’s move is the first step in Inspiration’s newest mission: to educate those country-wide about America’s spaceflight heritage.
Many thanks to Robert Pearlman of collectSPACE.com. All photos by Mike Killian/AmericaSpace.