The exhibit for the Atlantis shuttle orbiter opened this weekend. The presentation is very compelling. When you first see Atlantis up close you may be wiping a tear or two from your eyes!
This is shuttle orbiter Discovery, as seen in the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington DC. At top of the frame are the orbiter’s connections to the external tank. Match the connections here to the tank connections see in the previous photo. The connections have different configurations.
The second theater, which we’ve been asked to not take photos or video of, so as to not spoil the surprise, shows the shuttle in use. This theater also surrounds you with screens on four sides. Then comes a remarkable transition to Atlantis. You can’t believe your eyes. Is it really there?
Atlantis is poised as if in orbit around the Earth. Not too many astronauts had this impressive view of the orbiter. They sometimes had this view from the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit (the “jet pack”), or while attached to the robotic arm when servicing the Hubble telescope. Now everyone can see this perspective of Atlantis!
The payload bay doors are open. The doors are suspended by wires from the ceiling. The doors protected the payload during liftoff and landing. In orbit, the doors were used to transfer heat and cool the orbiter. The doors are lined with tubes carrying coolant. Did you know there are two robotic arms on the orbiter?
Be sure to look up. In orbit, astronauts could look through here to verify the robotic arm was moving as intended. This window was also where astronauts could look at Earth when relaxation or break time was scheduled.
Nearby are similar-dimension tubes for guests to climb through. There are no age restrictions – if you’ve dreamed about being on the space station, here’s your chance to get an idea of what it is like to move between the modules. Of course, it’s much easier when you’re weightless.
One section of the demonstration tubes is themed like a Space Station service connection. This NASA video will help compare the above to the actual Space Station. This video is a tour of part of the ISS, going through some of the module connections.
Another section of this interactive exhibit is crystal clear. It is a bit alarming at first to crawl out like this, but just think “water slide”. This tube is just like the clear water slide tubes at water parks, like at SeaWorld’s Aquatica.
Above, as the gallery is now, with Atlantis raised above. Below, Atlantis in the gallery just after it was towed inside. These camera angles are a bit different, the arrows help match four of the floor support beams. A curved line also represents where the curved wall was built after Atlantis was raised into position.
All of the Commercial Space Program participants were present during this opening weekend. Here, we see Space-X, which has had two Dragon spacecraft visit the International Space Station so far. At right is one of the motors that Space-X developed for their commercial rocket. The shuttle program may be over, but commercial rockets are just beginning. An exciting, accessible future in space flight is ahead.
The new Atlantis exhibit is well worth seeing! Check our our posts to see Discovery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Udvar-Hazy Center, and to see Endeavour in its temporary facility at the California ScienCenter.
Here’s our video tour inside the new Atlantis exhibit:
Here’s the Opening Ceremony for the exhibit:
Be sure to watch the July 4, 2013 episode of “Orlando Attractions Magazine – The Show” for our segment on the new Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit.