Almost two years after its final journey to space, Space Shuttle Atlantis has been put on public display in the Kennedy Space Centre’s Visitor Complex.
Unveiled on 29 June, the 68,000kg, 9m spaceship is shown lifted 9m in the air and tilted 43° as if in flight. The opening ceremony on Saturday saw 30 astronauts who flew on Atlantis missions in the past lining up to honour the last manned Nasa’s spacecraft.
“To get to something better, you have to have change,” said Kennedy Space Centre’s director Robert Cabana. “Change isn’t easy, but seeing Atlantis’s amazing exhibit … it makes it a lot easier.”
The exhibit required a $100m investment but according to those who have already seen it, the money has been well spent. Apart from the space shuttle itself, it offers some 60 interactive displays, multimedia presentations and virtual reality booths. Despite Atlantis being the centrepiece of the exhibit, many other in itself historic artefacts related to the space-shuttle era have been put on display – a full-scale model of the external tank, original twin rocket boosters that helped propel the shuttles, a full-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope or original shuttle tires used for Atlantis’s last landing.
Just one day before the unveiling of the Atlantis exhibit, Nasa announced it had chosen Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, to take over operations, maintenance and development of the space shuttle landing strip.
The facility, which hasn’t been used since the last landing of Atlantis, might be turned into a multi-user commercial spaceport. Space Florida hopes to attract customers such as the XCOR company and its currently developed Lynx space plane.
"We look forward to working with Nasa and KSC leadership in the coming months to finalize the details of this transaction in a way that will provide the greatest benefit to incoming commercial aerospace businesses," said Space Florida President Frank DiBello said in a statement.
Turning the shuttle landing facility over to a commercial operator will save Nasa more than $2m a year in operations and maintenance costs, documents posted on the agency's procurement website show.
The landing facility also includes a 4,645m2 hangar that Space Florida already owns. A commercial flight services company Starfighters Aerospace currently operates there. Previously, one of the space-shuttle’s maintenance hangars has already been rented out to Boeing for the development of its foreseen commercial space taxi.
Nasa said it received five bids for the shuttle landing facility, including the winning one.