NASA Visitor Center to Open Astronaut Training Attraction in 2018
The new Astronaut Training Experience (ATK) Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, opening in 2018, offers the public the chance to experience preparations for a mission to Mars.
Credit: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

A new year is bringing a new astronaut-themed attraction to NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

The all-new Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), opening in full in February, offers the public a high-tech, hands-on opportunity to see what it takes to prepare for a mission to Mars.

"This is the first time we are offering the ability for guests to actually come into Kennedy Space Center and look at the entire ATX, the Astronaut Training Experience, and have the ability to experience simulators and activities that are truly like working and living in space, as well as training like an astronaut," said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, in a statement. [The Best Mock Space Missions Ever]

For years, the official visitor center for NASA's Kennedy Space Center spaceport in Cape Canaveral has offered an off-site training program based on missions into low Earth orbit. With the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, and with a desire to move the experience onto the main campus of the visitor complex, a new ATX has been developed over the past two years.

The new ATX, which is housed in what was previously the main entrance building to the visitor complex, is divided into two distinct programs.

Immersive simulation technology, such as the "Land-and-Drive-on-Mars" full-motion simulator seen here, provide a high-tech authenticity to the new Astronaut Training Experience (ATK) Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
Immersive simulation technology, such as the "Land-and-Drive-on-Mars" full-motion simulator seen here, provide a high-tech authenticity to the new Astronaut Training Experience (ATK) Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
Credit: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The Astronaut Training Experience, for which segments will be for sale beginning in mid-January, challenges groups of up to 24 to simultaneously work in multiple training areas that replicate astronaut training devices of the future. Participants can attempt some of the same physical tasks that actual astronauts perform by working within reproduced environmental scenarios, such as the "Land-and-Drive-on-Mars" full-motion simulator; "Walk-on-Mars" virtual reality; a "Launch Mission"; and "Spacewalk Training." [Related: This Futuristic Mars Rover Looks Like an Awesome NASA Tank]

Mars Base 1, the second ATX program opening to individuals and groups in February, will provide visitors with a chance to live on Mars for seven hours as "rookie astronauts," while performing base operations and engineering tasks and conducting real science experiments. 

In Mars Base 1's Engineering Lab, participants will design and test a program that allows a team of robots to efficiently clear debris from a photovoltaic panel, restoring maximum solar power to the facility. "Rookie astronauts" will also partner with scientists working on food production, planting, harvesting and analyzing vegetables and plants, and gathering data in the Mars Botany Lab.

"ATX and Mars Base 1 bring the future of space exploration to life," said Protze. "Guests looking to get as close to Mars as possible without actually becoming an astronaut will be able to have that opportunity at the new Astronaut Training Experience Center."

In Mars Base 1, part of the new Astronaut Training Experience (ATK) Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, groups take part in the simulated operation of a science facility on the Red Planet.
In Mars Base 1, part of the new Astronaut Training Experience (ATK) Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, groups take part in the simulated operation of a science facility on the Red Planet.
Credit: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The ATX programs will be available as an add-on to regular admission to the visitor complex or as a separate activity. Programs will range from 30- and 45-minute experiences to several hours and will range in price from $30 to $175. Two-, three- and five-day "camp" programs will also be available.

"For anyone who has wondered what it would be like to feel like an astronaut, to train like they train, face the challenges and issues they have to work though while under extreme pressure, Astronaut Training Experience and Mars Base 1 [will soon be] available to everyone," said Protze.

For more about the new ATX, see the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's website

Robert Pearlman is a Space.com contributing writer and the editor of collectSPACE.com, a Space.com partner site and the leading space history news publication. Follow collectSPACE on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.