Space Shuttle Atlantis
By James | Last updated August 23, 2023
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On June 29, 2013 the new “Space Shuttle Atlantis” exhibit opened at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Entrance is included in the standard admission price.
Atlantis is housed in a new purpose built 90,000 square foot attraction. Outside the building, replicas of the massive external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters tower over the entrance to the exhibit.
On entering the exhibit you are directed to an upper level with views across the Rocket Garden. In the pre-show area, an 11 minute film introduces the origins of the shuttle programme back in the late 1960s. From the first room you then enter a second theatre showing many of the shuttle launches and activities from the very first launch of Columbia to the final landing of Atlantis. The finale is a dramatic reveal of Atlantis itself complete with orbital sunrise.
The shuttle is suspended 30 feet in the air (or should that be space!), tilted at a 43 degree angle, with its cargo bay doors open and Canadian built robotic arm deployed. This is the unique view that you could only get from the International Space Station.
You can view it from above and at ground level giving you unprecedented close ups of this amazing piece of space technology. From underneath you can see the scorched tiles from its last re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere and the space dust it collected on its last flight.
There is a replica of the Hubble Space Telescope that owes its prolonged service life to the shuttle programme. Space shuttles visited the Hubble five times during its lifetime originally to correct its optics and then to service it.
Various modules of the International Space Station are also displayed, emphasising the crucial role that the shuttle fleet played in building the station and then ferrying crew and supplies.
The exhibit also contains around 60 hand-on kiosks, simulators, presentations and other activities relating to the space shuttle programme where you can simulate docking with the International Space Station, operate the Canada Arm, go on a space walk and land the shuttle. If you want to can play commander, sit in a life-sized shuttle cockpit and have your photo taken.
Kids will enjoy a giant slide leading back down to the ground floor. It demonstrates the landing of a space shuttle, including the high-banked “S” curve turns used to burn off speed.
Exiting the exhibit then gives you access to the Space Shuttle Launch Experience simulator ride.
Other Space Shuttles
It is a fitting tribute that Atlantis, the last space shuttle to land at the Kennedy Space Center in July 2011, should find a permanent home at the Cape where so much space history has been made.
In total 135 shuttle missions were launched from Florida over a 30 year time period with Atlantis lifting off 33 times, spending 307 days in space and clocking up an incredible 126 million miles in the process.
Atlantis is the last surviving space shuttle to find a new home. Read more about the fate of the entire space shuttle fleet.