Before NASA deploys its Artemis Gateway in orbit around the moon, the space agency will launch a different, but related type of "Gateway" at its Florida spaceport — and everyone is invited to come aboard.
NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has announced "Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex," a new public attraction focused on the present and future of public and private space exploration. Like the lunar Gateway, which will be a waystation for Artemis astronaut crews on their way down to the moon's surface, the terrestrial "Gateway" will act as boarding ramp for Visitor Complex guests to experience modern-day spaceflight and future interstellar destinations.
"Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex" is slated to open in March 2022.
"The 50,000-square-foot, multi-level attraction, currently under construction in the shadow of the Rocket Garden, will engage and inspire guests through one-of-a-kind experiences, artifacts and exhibits," the Visitor Complex said in a statement released on Thursday (Dec. 2). "Featuring a comprehensive collection of modern-day spacecraft, Gateway will offer the opportunity to explore the future of space travel in a way never before possible. Through immersive education, atmospheric effects and a 4D motion theater, guests will see, experience and feel what it is actually like to travel in space."
Related: Facts about NASA's Artemis program
Part museum of the now and part simulated spaceport of the future, "travelers" entering the Gateway will be greeted with an indoor spacecraft garden, similar to the historic rocket garden they pass through on their way into the building. Guests will be surrounded by flown spacecraft and full-scale models, placed around the floor and suspended from above to allow 360-degree viewing and interaction. The planned displays will include:
- NASA's Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) Orion spacecraft flown in 2014
- Full-scale engineering model of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner crew capsule
- SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage booster no. 1023, which launched the Thaicom 8 satellite in 2016 before being converted into a side booster for the first Falcon Heavy launch with Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster in 2018
- Full-scale replica of Sierra Space's Dream Chaser cargo rocket plane
- Scale model of NASA's Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket
- Models of United Launch Alliance Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy rockets
From the second floor, guests will be able get "nose-to-nose" with the Falcon 9 booster, one of only three such reusable launch vehicles on display and the only one on indoor exhibit.
The upper floor will also host "Robotic Trail Blazers," a 30-foot (9 meters) interactive wall presenting information about some 40 different satellites and space probes. Nearby, a HoloTube presentation station can also be used to learn about NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) by manipulating holographic imagery, video and animation.
From there, guests can depart for Spaceport KSC, "the first and only airport of the future."
"Upon entering the concourse, travelers will be surrounded by the sights and sounds of a galactic spaceport," the Visitor Complex described. "Atmospheric airport chatter will surround travelers as they peer through windows at distant views of active launches and landings. The main concourse features multiple screens that will showcase destination promo videos and departure and arrival information."
Guests then board "spaceships" — in the form of a two-story, 4D flying theater — for one of four journeys: Cosmic Wonders, Daring Explorers, Red Planet or Uncharted Worlds. Each destination allows for a different journey on each visit.
On their "return" to Earth, visitors can discover a rooftop event space for both launch and landing viewing and hosting special occasions. Among the fixtures on the roof will be a telescope with a deep sky reflector and solar refractor, affording access some of the sky's most stunning celestial and solar sights.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is operated for NASA by Delaware North and is entirely visitor-funded. No taxpayer funds were used in the development or construction of "Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex."
Click through to collectSPACE to see more artist renderings of "Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex" at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
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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.