Out and About: The New Astronaut Training Experience at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

The New Astronaut Training Experience at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) has long been known as the gateway to outer space for those seeking to get a close up view of our nation’s space program. Between housing space artifacts and memorabilia, to actual spacecraft like the orbiter Atlantis, as well as hosting viewings of launches from the historic pads, they have always been on the cutting edge of space related tourism.

With the introduction of the all new Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), KSCVC will continue the tradition of offering hands-on interactive exhibits, but with a twist – you actually get to experience training for simulated space missions!

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Out and About: Sun ‘n Fun Opening Day in Lakeland

Restored warbirds sit on the flight line. Photo: Kirk Garreans
Restored warbirds sit on the flight line. Photo: Kirk Garreans

It’s that time again!

April 1st was not only April Fool’s Day, but was also opening day! No, not baseball – I’m talking about the opening day for the Sun ‘n Fun airshow at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, FL.

For those of us that are addicted to the beauty and thrill of flying, this is one of the best airshows in the country. You baseball fans can keep your peanuts, popcorn and cracker jacks – I’ll stick with the sound of spinning props, the roar of jet engines, and the smell of gas and jet fuel, thank you very much!

This year they are celebrating the airshow’s 40th anniversary, which seems to grow larger every year. There is so much to see that it is almost impossible to see everything at the show in a single day. From the old faithful warbirds to the latest experimental and homebuilt planes – even flying cars are on exhibit! There is literally something for anyone even remotely interested in aviation or even thrill-seeking spectators. There are exhibits spread throughout the airfield, with everything from spare parts for vintage airplanes to electronic navigation aids, flight simulators, and so much more.

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Sneaking a Peek at the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

Life-sized models of the solid rocket boosters will serve and a grand gateway entrance to the new Atlantis exhibit.
Life-sized models of the solid rocket boosters will serve and a grand gateway entrance to the new Atlantis exhibit.

On Saturday, April 20, we were at the Kennedy Space Center to celebrate the latest inductions to the Astronaut Hall of Fame. The same day, media representatives were invited to tour the construction site that is now home to Space Shuttle Atlantis.

This $100 million project will showcase not only the orbiter itself, but will tell the story of the entire shuttle program, the people and jobs that served behind the program to make it such a success, the role it played in building the International Space Station as well as the launch and upkeep of the Hubble Space Telescope, and how the shuttle program has paved the way for future space exploration.

Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly in space, made her final trip to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center in November of 2012, and crews have been working since that time to get the orbiter into position and ready for the grand opening this summer. With the opening of this exhibit, visitors to the KSC will be able to experience the space shuttle “in-flight” – appearing much as she did when orbiting in space.

Atlantis has been raised 30 feet off of the ground and rotated 43 degrees, and will have the payload bay doors open, giving it the appearance of space flight. Visitors will be able to walk around the orbiter and because of the way she is displayed, will feel as though they can reach out and touch Atlantis from the balcony surrounding the centerpiece. Theatrical lighting and dramatic video will enhance the feeling of being in space, and various hands-on exhibits in the balcony will let guests “look” inside the shuttle to see the crew compartment, cockpit, and other details.

Atlantis sits at a 43 degree angle as though she is flying in space.
Atlantis sits at a 43 degree angle as though she is flying in space.

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2013 Astronaut Hall of Fame Ceremony at Kennedy Space Center Honors New Inductees; Sets Milestone for Women Astronauts

More than 20 elite astronauts, all members of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, met at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Saturday, April 20, 2013, to welcome the newest inductees into the Hall of Fame.

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Bonnie Dunbar, Curt Brown and Eileen Collins (pictured left to right) are the 2013 inductees into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

This celebration marked the first time that two women have entered the Hall of Fame at the same time, with the induction of Bonnie Dunbar and Eileen Collins, alongside fellow shuttle astronaut Curt Brown. With this year’s inductions, the Astronaut Hall of Fame now has 85 members, including space pioneers such as Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Sally Ride, Neil Armstrong, and John Young.

Obviously, it is no small feat to be selected to join such a prestigious group of astronauts, and this is only the 12th group of nominees to receive such honors. The list of achievements of these three astronauts is indicative of the type of dedication and experience required to attain such status.

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A Melancholy Celebration as Space Shuttle Atlantis is Moved to Her Final Home

On Friday, November 2, 2012, the Kennedy Space Center launch facilities were left without an orbiter in the program for the first time since 1979.

At 6:30am, Atlantis began her 9.8 mile journey from the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to her new permanent home at the KSC Visitors Center just outside the secure KSC launch facilities. As she rolled out of the VAB for her last mission, she was greeted by members of the team that had cared for Atlantis over the years since being put into commission in April 1985.

There was a palpable sadness in the air — from the Atlantis team that had put so much of their lives into the orbiter; to the press corps that have covered the shuttle missions over the years; as well as the KSC and USA staff involved in so many launches and landings of the beautiful spacecraft.

One Atlantis team member recited this fitting saying, often attributed to Dr. Seuss, “Don’t cry because it’s over – smile because it happened.” It set the mood perfectly in the chilly predawn morning as they watched Atlantis leaving her working facilities for the final time. The workers, some who have already lost their jobs as shuttle operations ended, carried a banner that read “We Made History – Atlantis” as they walked behind the orbiter.

Atlantis team members say goodbye as she is rolled from the VAB for the last time

Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly in space, rode atop 76 wheels on the Orbiter Transporter System (OTS) for her final journey, with a top speed of only 2 miles per hour. The orbiter weight was 154,000 lbs., and with the transporter, the combined vehicles weighed well over 300,000 lbs. as they made their way on the roads from the VAB to the Visitors Center. In order to avoid having obstacles in the way of her move, 120 light poles, 23 traffic signals, and 56 traffic signs had to be removed to ensure a clear path during transport.

As Atlantis travels Kennedy Parkway, traffic lights and road signs had to be removed from her path

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A Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Future Home of Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Visitor Center

CitySurfing Orlando was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the new construction at the Kennedy Visitor Center that will house space shuttle Atlantis which was moved on November 2, 2012.

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Although not a lot of specifics are being released to the public yet, we can report that the project is budgeted at around $100 million.

The new building will be about 90,000 square feet of space to show off not only Atlantis, but hardware associated with the launch pad (remember the “beanie cap” that was raised from the external tank right before launch? They’ve got the actual one from Pad 39B on exhibit!) and models of the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as lots of hands-on interactive exhibits.

Our hardhat tour was led by Tim Macy, Director of Project Development & Construction for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Mr. Macy has a very impressive background in working with public displays, including developing and planning of Olympic facilities in Atlanta and Sydney, and managing Navy Pier in Chicago.

He has been involved with preparing the Atlantis facility for over 2 years, and is excited to have Atlantis finally arrive at her permanent home. He told of the exceptional care that is being taken to ensure that Atlantis will be maintained as a national treasure for future generations, including special LED lighting that won’t harm the orbiter with ultraviolet or infrared rays.

Visitors will enter the building by walking between a mock-up of 2 solid rocket boosters, under an attached external tank, and then through various exhibits in a switchback configuration, taking them higher in the building. After turning a corner they will suddenly come face-to-face with Atlantis, poised as though in space flight, with her bay doors open.

There will be handheld units that allow a virtual view under the skin of the orbiter, with an almost x-ray vision. From there, guests can walk around, even underneath the Atlantis, and enjoy all of the other exhibits and displays that tell the story of the 30 year Shuttle program, as well as giving a view of what we can expect in future space exploration.

There are lots of other exciting surprises that will await those that visit the exhibit when it opens in July of 2013.

Be sure to check out our coverage of the final move of Atlantis. We’ll have pictures and coverage from the time Atlantis leaves the Vehicle Assembly Building, until she arrives at the Visitor Center after a 10 mile journey.

Here are some photos from the tour of the future home of Atlantis:

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