NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center
Like a special gift being unwrapped, construction crews began removing 16,000 square feet of plastic shrink-wrap from space shuttle Atlantis on April 25 as work continues for the famed spacecraft's new $100 million home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Atlantis has been enclosed in the plastic since November of last year to protect the priceless artifact from dust and debris during construction of the facility where it will be displayed.
"This is the next step in unveiling Atlantis," said Tim Macy, director of project development for Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts at the visitor complex. "We should have it all off by late tomorrow afternoon."
As construction workers continued removing plastic, Macy explained that the crews are being methodical and meticulous in their work.
"This is a priceless artifact," he said. "It is incumbent upon us to take care of her."
Construction continues for the one-of-a kind, 90,000-square-foot educational attraction that will feature a 360-degree, multilevel view of Atlantis. The facility is scheduled to open to the public June 29.
"We're on schedule," said Macy. "We feel very comfortable about that now."
In mid-November, Atlantis was raised 30 feet off the ground and rotated 43 degrees to be displayed as if it were in space. Its portside wingtip is only 7.5 feet off the ground. Atlantis will be held in place by two support beams attached where the spacecraft was mounted atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747, for cross-country ferry flights.
"There's nothing else like this," Macy said. "The way it's shown to the public and presented is like no place else on Earth."
Once inside the exhibit, visitors will see Atlantis as it appeared in space with the payload bay doors opened and Atlantis' Canadarm remote manipulator system - its robotic arm - installed and extended.
"We have to take the plastic off to allow us to open the payload bay doors," Macy said. "We've never done this before, but we've got a great plan. We've got United Space Alliance guys who have worked on the shuttle for over 30 years, we have NASA oversight, we've got plenty of engineers, and we've got some really smart people working on this."
United Space Alliance was NASA's Space Program Operations Contractor, responsible for processing the shuttles between missions.
First flown in 1985, Atlantis' last flight, STS-135, was to the International Space Station and took place from July 8 to 21, 2011.
"She's had 33 missions in space and traveled over 12 million miles," Macy said, noting that Atlantis has had a stellar 26-year career.
In April, construction began on full-scale twin solid rocket boosters at the entry to the Space Shuttle Atlantis facility with an external fuel tank to be added later. Guests will walk beneath the massive boosters and external tank, which will reach 184 feet into the air.
Displays will tell the 30-year story of the entire Space Shuttle Program, including a focus on the contributions of thousands of people working behind the scenes. Exhibits will include the shuttle's key role in the launch and servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as construction of the International Space Station.
The full-scale replica of the Hubble telescope will be 43-feet-tall and hung through an opening in the second floor.
"Wait until you see Hubble," Macy said. "It is enormous. It reaches all the way up the ceiling and suspends about 11 feet off the ground floor. It's fantastic."
There will be great detail in the information available in the displays for visitors to enjoy.
"It will also be presented in a way that's entertaining," Macy said. "There are over 60 interactive exhibits. What we've learned is we have to entertain as we educate."
The exhibits and simulators will provide guests a never-before-experienced perspective on the shuttle's complex systems, components and capabilities. The facility also is being designed for all ages.
"There's a lot of stuff for kids here, too," Macy said. "We've replicated the shuttle's landing approach with opportunities for kids to go down a big slide that follows the shuttle's landing path. Our goal is to have people come to enjoy what they are seeing here."