Spaceflight Now

KSC museum gets makeover ahead of Atlantis opening

Posted: December 27, 2012

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Tourists coming to America's spaceport at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex are being greeted by a modernized entrance, a facelift officially unveiled Thursday as part of the park's expansion in the coming years.

Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now
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Privately run by Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, the KSCVC is the public's gateway into the Kennedy Space Center, where men launched to the moon and all 135 space shuttle missions originated.

Now, the museum is in the midst of a makeover that will see the shuttle Atlantis attraction open next July, the Astronaut Hall of Fame relocate to the main KSCVC campus from its original location across the river, renovations made to the eateries and gift shops and the bus tour loading dock that shuttles the public into operational areas of the space center spruced up for boarding guests.

"We are self-funded," said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, who added that a portion of revenue generated by guests is reinvested to make the upgrades.

"This is, without question in my mind, one of the most competitive marketplaces for tourism in the world," Moore said, eluding to nearby Orlando. "We have to have an experience that rivals that... We try to make sure that we're doing things that speak to what the modern visitor wants and the things they expect when they arrive."

The new entry plaza, replacing the design of yesteryear, features a three-dimensional NASA "meatball" logo and a 75-foot-long, 30-foot-high, 5,000-gallon blue-granite water fountain with an etching of former President John F. Kennedy and his words from the immortal 1962 "moon speech" that launched mankind's quest to land astronauts on the lunar surface.

"For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace," reads the quote on the fountain.

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There's also new ticket stations, self-service admission kiosks and turnstiles to bring tourists into the park. A new 2,500-square-foot gift shop has been built outside the turnstiles, allowing customers to purchase space items without having to enter the complex.

In all, KSCVC has spent $16 million on the entrance area, which leads into the Rocket Garden, where launchers of the past stand on display. There's even a full-scale replica of the Mercury-Atlas booster, complete with the capsule markings of Friendship 7 that took John Glenn into orbit nearly 51 years ago.

Lining the sidewalks are trails with embedded Tennessee River rocks, the same material that coats the "crawlerway" connecting the Vehicle Assembly Building and twin launch pads at Complex 39.

The park now "flows" from west to east, taking guests from the Rocket Garden, through the center section where the IMAX theaters are located and eventually culminating with the Atlantis exhibit and the Shuttle Launch Experience thrill ride. The old design had the entrance positioned in the middle of the park.

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With the entrance now rejuvenated, KSCVC is preparing to open its star attraction in July -- the permanent home for the retired space shuttle orbiter Atlantis.

"I think Atlantis will be a game-changer," Moore said of the park and its attendance.

The spaceship, which flew the program's final mission in July 2011, was moved into the sprawling display hall Nov. 2. Construction continues around Atlantis, which was wrapped in a protective plastic before being hoisted atop mounting pedestals and tilted 43.21 degrees to port.

That covering will be removed in March and the payload bay doors swung open in April for the final display touches to be added. The spacecraft will be depicted "in orbit" with exceptionally close access for the public to gaze at the orbiter both from the ground and on a second-floor observation ramp.

Atlantis flew into space 33 times, traveling 125,935,769 miles and covering 4,848 orbits during 307 days aloft.

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The facility, which has not yet been named, will tell the story of the entire three-decade space shuttle program, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station projects.

In the coming years, Moore says the park envisions moving the Astronaut Hall of Fame from its existing location in Titusville to the main Visitor Complex.

Still to be determined, Moore said, is whether that hall and its artifacts will be housed in current space or whether a new building will be constructed at KSCVC.

"Atlantis is going to be the big star for the next couple of years, then we'll be coming fairly close to that with the Hall of Fame," Moore said.