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Around Orlando: Welcome Home, Atlantis!

Around Orlando: Welcome Home, Atlantis! Banner Image

WOW!! So, the Kaleidoscope Team was thrilled to be invited last week to check out a brand-new exhibit, centering on an old friend, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex just a short drive outside Orlando.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is now permanently docked in a beautiful new $100 million showcase at Kennedy Space Center, where it made its debut as part of NASA’s Shuttle Program in 1985. Atlantis carried astronauts from the US and around the globe on 33 missions into space between 1985 and 2011 when the Shuttle Program came to an end. Now it is the central figure of this fantastic new attraction at Kennedy Space Center, and I can’t say enough about it.

Where to begin? Atlantis’s new home is this beautiful new building at the KSC Visitor Complex. KSC tells us that, Atlantis new home features two sweeping architectural elements or wings representing the space shuttle’s launch and return.

Guests enter by parading through this full-scale model of the Shuttles two solid rocket boosters and external tank.

Once inside, we were treated to a brief film re-enacting the development of the Shuttle Program from 1969 to 1981, when Space Shuttle Columbia flew the first shuttle mission to space. The film is informative, but also fast-paced and humorous, and certainly easy to follow. After a second, very impressive multi-media presentation, suddenly, with the words, welcome home, Atlantis, there she was!!

Atlantis is home, too. While Atlantis’s sisters, Endeavour, Discovery, and Enterprise are now on display in Los Angeles, the Smithsonian, and New York respectively, Atlantis gets to live out its retirement (as so many do) on Florida’s Space Coast, just down the road from the launch pad that sent it on some of its most memorable journeys to space. Atlantis was the very last shuttle to launch into space on July 8, 2011, and there is very much a sense that Atlantis is right back where she belongs.

Atlantis is suspended in the air as if it were in orbit, and viewable from every level of the building. David Henson, a 40-year NASA veteran, who worked on both the Apollo and shuttle programs, told us that she is suspended at a 43.21 degree angle get it?…4,3,2,1?

Kimberly happened to speak to an older gentleman who turned out to have been involved in the actual building of Atlantis. From him, she learned a lot about what KSC calls the wear and tear of its 33 missions apparent on its protective tiles.The white front around the cockpit almost looks plushy, or quilted, as Kimberly described it, while the black is smoother with the exception of tiny holes. This engineer explained that the holes were drilled to drain moisture that might have collected in Florida’s damp air so that the shuttle wouldn’t freeze on its next mission to space. He also pointed out the tiled underbelly of Atlantis, which he apparently helped assemble. Astronaut Jerry Ross was also available for a chat, and Kimberly snapped a picture with him.

Kimberly with Astronaut Jerry Ross, who shares the record for the most spaceflights aboard the shuttle…7!

Atlantis new home is 90,000 square feet and, in addition to the shuttle itself, is packed with interactive exhibits that showcase 30 years of the Shuttle Program, life on the International Space Station, and the work of the Hubble Space Telescope. You can easily spend hours in there!

Especially cool was this crawl space depicting part of the International Space Station. Unfortunately, unlike the Astronauts aboard the ISS, you can’t float through it!

The simulator in this video clip tests the steadiness of your hand as you tighten bolts during a spacewalk or repair the Hubble Telescope…also, look for a brief cameo by Atlantis herself at the end!

Have you ever wondered how you go to the bathroom in space? This exhibit about life on the ISS gives you a colorful and detailed description

…then you can try out the space potty for yourself!

The Space Shuttle Atlantis complex is now also home to KSC’s Shuttle Launch Experience, which has been a part of the Visitor Complex for six years now. I had never done it before, so I made it a point to check it out on this trip. To enter the simulator, you actually walk the gantry, just like the astronauts did when they boarded the shuttle. Astronauts describe this as the most realistic launch simulator they’ve ever experienced, and who am I to doubt them. The steps of the launch process are explained throughout the ride itself so you can correlate what you are feeling in the simulator with what you’ve seen on TV over the years as the shuttle ignites, rumbles, and flies through the atmosphere.

Once in orbit, the doors open to reveal a pretty cool sight.

As the Shuttle Program becomes a thing of the past, it’s important to remind future generations of all of the advancements in our daily lives that we owe to the 30 years of research made possible by this program, which was the common face of space exploration for generations.

Atlantis is only the tip of the iceberg at Kennedy Space Center, however. You really can spend just as full of a day at there as you can at any of the theme parks, or share the day with a trip to the beach. It’s fun, educational, and something you quite literally cannot see anywhere else.

Do you think your student group would enjoy seeing Atlantis and the beautiful new exhibit at Kennedy Space Center? Would you consider adding KSC to your itinerary on your next student or personal trip to Orlando? Contact Kaleidoscope Adventures at 800-774-7337 or to find out how!

If you have any questions or comments about the new Atlantis exhibit or any of the other shuttle exhibits around the country, or just want to share a space memory of your own, let us know in the comments section below. Be sure to check back soon for a blog post detailing KSC’s offerings outside the Atlantis exhibit.