Atlantis Set for Move to New Home
Friday morning, Kennedy Space Center is due to salute space shuttle Atlantis as the orbiter moves to its new home at Kennedy's visitor complex. Technicians who spent half their lives working on the shuttles will watch as Atlantis makes the nearly 10 mile journey. Atlantis is final member of the shuttle fleet to leave Kennedy.
The new display hall being built for Atlantis rises more than 100 feet into the air on a four acre site at the visitor complex.
Inside the 100 million dollar building, the shuttle will appear to fly in orbit, at an angle of 43 point 21 degrees- signifying 4-3-2-1 like a NASA countdown.
It was a more than a year ago that an emotional NASA administrator Charlie Bolden announced Kennedy was getting Atlantis, one of the three coveted orbiters.
“The millions of visitors who come here every year to learn more about space and be a part of the excitement of exploration and be able to see what still a great rarity, an actual flown space vehicle," said Bolden.
Atlantis flew the last ever shuttle mission into space and it’s a personal favorite of Bolden’s.
Inside a giant hangar at the space center, technicians were working until last month preparing Atlantis for retirement.
David Bakehorn says after 27 years on the program, closing up the last shuttle represents more than just the end of a job.
“We’ve watched each other get old and fat and gray and bald, we’ve watched each other have children, we’ve watched our children grow up, get married and have children of their own, so it’s the breakup of a big family.”
At the start of the shuttle program Bakehorn worked up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week for weeks at a time - and he loved every minute. Now he says he wants to be part of the new space programs starting up at Kennedy.
Quality assurance specialist Rob Lewis spent 22 years on the shuttle program.
“We’ve had a good run" says Lewis.
"It’s still a pretty amazing vehicle. It’s awesome. I think they could have flown for quite a few more years.”
Lewis says he’s glad Atlantis is staying on the space coast. If he gets homesick, he can easily go visit.
The shuttle workers will say their final farewells to Atlantis in a special ceremony along the route to the visitor complex.
The move isn’t as complex as shuttle Endeavour’s recent trek through the streets of Los Angeles, but it still requires careful planning.
Steve Surges, the vice president of local construction firm Iveys, is overseeing the move.
“For the past several months we’ve been adding road improvements throughout the Kennedy Space Center removing light poles, traffic signals, street signs and other obstacles that are in the way.
Atlantis travels on a special 76 wheel transporter, which can make the tight turns needed to get the shuttle into the display hall.
The back end of the new building towers 116 feet off the ground, and the last wall hasn’t been built yet.
Project development and construction director Tim Macy explains why.
“As soon as we get her in, literally the next day or two days later we’ll start filling in this giant hole that we have here.”
Once inside, Tim Macy says the shuttle will be shrink wrapped in protective plastic.
“We’ve got this priceless artifact that we’re responsible for, we want to make sure that anything over the top of Atlantis is already constructed before she pulls in. It would kill me to drop a wrench or a light bulb or something onto the vehicle.”
The state of the art hall includes a specialized air conditioning system blowing a stream of cool dry air directly onto Atlantis to help preserve it.
A fleet of telescopic cranes is lined up along one of the outer walls, where workers are putting up a flame colored panel that wraps around the building.
The orange is reminiscent of the glow of re-entry burn, and it symbolizes the space craft’s unique, re-usable nature.
Tim Macy says while there’s sadness in the rollout, it’s no funeral procession.
“I think it’s an awakening, I think it’s a great opportunity for people to see the shuttle and really understand the program that they might have just seen on television in the past. To see it up close is going to be fantastic.”
Atlantis will stop at Exploration Park near the visitor complex at midday for a few hours so ticketed members of the public can see it before it rolls into its new home around 6 this evening.
The three retired orbiters are spread out across the country. Discovery is at the Smithsonian, Endeavour’s gone to the California Science Center, and the Atlantis exhibit is slated to open next July.