With just about four months remaining before its public debut, the "Space Shuttle Atlantis" exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida is taking shape — both inside and out.
The $100 million exhibit is scheduled to open June 29 and will bring the public nose-to-nose — and nose-to-wing and nose-to-tail — with NASA's space shuttle Atlantis, the last orbiter to fly in space before the fleet was retired in 2011. Since entering the six-story building in November 2012, Atlantis has been raised off the ground, shrink-wrapped in 16,000 square feet of plastic and tilted 43 degrees, the latter designed to give guests a view of what the shuttle looked like to astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
With Atlantis shielded from dirt and dust, work is underway to finish walkways and theaters that will lead visitors through the history of the space shuttle program as they tour around Atlantis and more than 60 related exhibits. Come May, when the shuttle is unwrapped, its payload bay doors will be carefully opened, a replica of its Canadarm robotic arm will be extended and a full-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope will be installed to span two floors.
Meanwhile outside the facility, the finishing touches are being put on the building's glimmering orange facade that was designed to evoke the space shuttle's re-entry into the atmosphere. Nearby, the steel skeleton of what will be two towering 185-foot-tall (56 meters) replica solid rocket boosters have begun to rise off the ground. Visitors will walk between the two rockets — and underneath a massive external fuel tank suspended from them — to enter the exhibit.
collectSPACE.com, a SPACE.com partner site, recently had the chance to tour the construction site, where even in its still-under-wraps condition, the space shuttle Atlantis is already impressive sight.
Click through to collectSPACE.com for a full gallery of the shrink-wrapped space shuttle Atlantis and its exhibit’s boosters beginning to rise off the ground.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.