CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A quarter century after its start, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame is set to be re-launched as a high-tech interactive public attraction intended to inspire a new generation of explorers.
NASA officials, exhibit designers and more than 25 Hall of Fame astronauts gathered at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Friday (May 29) to announce "Heroes and Legends,"a new gallery that will incorporate and feature the hall when it opens in 2016.
"Twenty five years ago, in 1990, just six miles west of the gates of the Kennedy Space Center, the doors [to the Hall of Fame] were opened," Therrin Protze, the chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, said prior to a ceremonial groundbreaking for the attraction. "It seems only appropriate we celebrate the 25th anniversary [by] celebrating the ideals, bravery, fortitude, courage and commitment that it represents." [7 Space Shuttle Astronauts You Should Know]
Moving from its off-site facility to take over and expand on what is currently the Early Space Exploration hall, Heroes and Legends will be the first attraction guests encounter after entering the visitor complex through the ticket plaza. The building's façade will feature a larger-than-life relief of the original Mercury astronauts drawn on a sweeping wall that arcs towards the adjacent rocket garden.
Stepping inside, guests will enter a cylindrical room where a collection of artifacts are illuminated.
"It's at this point that the audience is confronted with a set of questions: 'Who is a hero? What is a hero? Who are the heroes of our time?'" Cecil Magpuri, chief creative officer and president of Falcon's Treehouse, the Orlando firm that designed Heroes and Legends, said. "By the time the first presentation reaches its dramatic conclusion, you can feel that the sense of anticipation has been boosted to a new level."
Entering the main theater, visitors find themselves poised on a thinly-lit platform, hovering in a void as dark as space itself, Magpuri described. Here, guests don 3D glasses as historic images from the Mercury program through the first Apollo mission is projected onto the spherical walls of the theater.
"As the astronauts recount their adventures, the audience suddenly realizes the platform on which they're standing is actually suspended within an inverted dome, a large, bowl-like 3D projection surface," he said. "Guests will have felt they've personally accompanied these space age heroes on their mythical quests."
Proceeding even further into Heroes and Legends, visitors will step onto a mezzanine overlooking the exhibits below. Descending down elevators and onto the floor, visitors will find interactive stations, as well as memorabilia enhanced with simulated holograms and augmented reality displays that capture the moments the artifacts fulfilled their roles in America's early space program.
"Next, they arrive at an impressively-detailed recreation of the Mercury Mission Control, outfitted with several of the actual consoles and control panels that were used during the program. After leaving that display, guests soon arrive at the actual Sigma 7 Mercury space capsule that carried Wally Schirra into Earth orbit in 1962," Magpuri said.
"And if that wasn't enough, we get to engage with the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame," he added.
Moving into a rotunda-like space, visitors will encounter a montage displaying all of the inductees. And at the room's center, interactive kiosks will introduce guests to the hall's newest members.
"By the time guests exit, they will have developed a whole new understanding and appreciation for the qualities that explain why NASA's pioneering astronauts are admired as heroes [and] inspired generations," Magpuri stated.
Conceived by the surviving Mercury astronauts in the mid-1980s, the Astronaut Hall of Fame now honors nearly 100 space explorers. The 2015 class includes John Grunsfeld, Rhea Seddon, Steven Lindsey and Kent Rominger.
"The Astronaut Hall of Fame for 25 years now has been telling the story of our brave men and women who have broken the bonds of gravity and raised the bar of human achievement," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut who was inducted to the hall in 2006. "I'm proud of what this re-envisioning of the hall represents and the new opportunities it provides to tell the exciting story of humans in space."
Click through to collectSPACE to see an artist's concept of the Heroes and Legends 4D omnidirectional theater.