The next group of people to experience launching aboard one of NASA's space shuttles won't be astronauts. While NASA has June 8 planned for its next liftoff from Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A, just seven miles away thousands at NASA's official visitor complex will have the opportunity to board the new Shuttle Launch Experience (SLE), opening on May 25.
The 44,000 square foot, $60 million ride -- or as it's more accurately-described, simulator -- was designed to give visitors to the Florida space center what they expressed they wanted most.
"We wanted to show people what it was like to fly in space because in our exit research, of the people who come here, it's all about launch," explained Dan LeBlanc, chief operating officer of the visitor complex, during an exclusive early tour of the SLE with collectSPACE.com.
"There were arguments about whether we should do shuttle... or whether we look at a futuristic [craft]. Our argument was, if you do future, than you are essentially science fiction and then there is no point of difference with what is going on 50 miles from here. We've got to stay real," stressed LeBlanc.
"There's no asteroids. There's no aliens. You don't even have an emergency on your way to orbit. In fact, we don't even tell people we're putting them on the shuttle. The marketing line is that this is a simulator. NASA had a lot to do with the early development of simulator technology and that's what it is, a motion based simulator designed by NASA and the astronauts to show people what it's like, as best we can within the confines of gravity, to fly to space aboard the space shuttle."
To accomplish that sense of realism, LeBlanc and his team turned to former astronauts like shuttle commander Rick Searfoss and Bob Rogers, founder and chairman of BRC Imagination Arts, a leader in the field of museum design. Rogers previously worked with the KSC Visitor Complex to design and build its Apollo-Saturn V Center.
"Rogers is our story teller, the same guy who did all the story telling out at the Saturn V, who took what is not a lot of twists and turns like on a roller coaster, but who took that experience and turned it into something really emotional," said LeBlanc.
"There's going to be a lot of learning going on in here but more than anything we want this to be emotional. We want to create an emotional attachment to the space program. We want people, after they do this, the next time they see a shuttle launch or a CEV launch, they can say, 'You know what, I know a little bit about what that feels like.'"
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