Shuttle Stack Construction Marks Latest Milestone
The classic stack of booster rockets and fuel tank that helped power NASA's shuttles into space will gain a permanent spot in Kennedy Space Center's skyline as full-size replicas are built in front of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Although they are replicas of the twin solid rocket boosters, or SRBs, and external tank, the feature now under construction will give visitors an up-close look at the machinery it took to loft the largest spacecraft in history into orbit.
"We've created an icon for a building that has an icon in the building," said Tim Macy, director of Project Development and Construction for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Workers used a 200-foot-tall crane to lift the first of several segments into place this week. Workers used a 200-foot-tall crane to lift the first of several segments into place this week. When finished, the 149-foot-tall twin boosters will exceed the highest point of the hall housing Atlantis itself.
The full-size booster models, made of fiberglass and steel and built by California-based Penwal, will be joined in June by a full-size external tank to give visitors a look at a shuttle stack as it stood before the shuttle was connected. The completed stack will reach more than 18 stories, dwarfing most of the buildings on Florida's Space Coast.
When the attraction opens June 29, visitors will be able to walk under the stack on their way into the 90,000-square-foot exhibit hall holding Atlantis itself. The view will be similar to that of a person walking on the mobile launch platform during the shuttle's operational years.
"It really creates a nice archway," Macy said. "You'll see this from Titusville."
The shuttle's SRBs are the largest solid-fueled rockets ever built. Generating more than 3 million pounds of thrust each at liftoff, the pair would burn nine tons of propellant in a second during the first phase of a shuttle launch. The boosters dropped away from the shuttle two minutes into ascent and parachuted into the ocean where they could be retrieved and re-used.
Because the replica boosters and tank stack will be standing amongst regular buildings instead of inside the gargantuan Vehicle Assembly Building, people will be able to understand better just how massive the boosters and tank are, and appreciate the workmanship and power it took to lift the shuttle off the pad and into orbit, Macy said.
While the 40,000-pound booster segments were hoisted in front of the Atlantis exhibit building, workers kept up their pace outfitting the building itself to showcase the star attraction. Just as the launch stack impresses with its size outside, Atlantis impresses with its size inside, Macy said.
"The building was huge until we pulled Atlantis into it, then it got real small," Macy laughed.
Atlantis' home was built to showcase the shuttle on pedestals that will hold it at a 43-degree angle with its cargo bay doors open and robot arm extended just as it appeared in orbit.
The exhibit also will feature a full-size model of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and large examples of modules as they are on the International Space Station. All of the elements are some of the largest ever produced for spaceflight.
"We want to be able to stand back and look at it," Macy said. "It tells the whole story. The shuttle program is part of an ongoing story. The exploration of space is never-ending. It's part of the story that gets us into the next chapter of space."
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center