Encased in 16,000 square feet of shrink-wrap, Space Shuttle Atlantis sits in the middle of a working construction site at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. The plastic coating was placed on the orbiter to protect it from dust and dirt during construction.
“We want to make sure that it is safe," said Tim Macy, director of project development and construction. Macy and colleagues had 95% of the work done above Atlantis before the shuttle rolled in, “so we really reduced the risk of dropping anything on her.”
Atlantis was the last NASA space shuttle to go into space, and the last to be brought to its museum-style resting place this year. Its landing on July 21, 2011, marked the end of NASA's space shuttle program.
The museum that will house Atlantis is being built around the orbiter. Last month the vehicle was brought to the Visitor Complex, where it will be put on public display. At that time, three-quarters of the exterior was complete, said Andrea Farmer, senior public relations manager at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Only one wall was incomplete, the one Atlantis entered through, and now that's nearly done too.
With a wing-span of about 80 feet, Atlantis was carefully maneuvered through the 82.5-foot back wall of the incomplete building. Work on the viewing platforms, floors and walls continues as Atlantis sits tightly wrapped and suspended from the ceiling.
The goal of the exhibit is for the visitor to have an experience similar to an astronaut’s view of what Atlantis looked like while in space, Farmer said. The payload doors will be open and the large wall behind it will project an image of what Earth looks like from space.
There will be more than 50 interactive elements in the exhibit, but touching Atlantis will not be permitted. “It’s a priceless artifact," Macy said "We can’t let you touch it."
But parts of the shuttle, including the toilet and living quarters, are being taken out and put on display separately, so "you can get a hands on feel for that," Macy said.
The Atlantis exhibit will be an added attraction to the other space-related features on display at the Visitor Complex.
“It will complement what we already have,” Farmer said, “including the Apollo Saturn 5 center, which tells the moon program story, and the iconic rocket garden, which talks about early space exploration and how we got there with the vintage rockets on display.”
The Atlantis display will be in a 90,000-square-foot facility and cost $100 million to build. It is expected to be open to the public by July 2013.