Spaceflight Now

Replica space shuttle boosters rising at the Cape

Posted: April 11, 2013

Towering replicas of the twin solid-fuel booster rockets that provided the vast majority of thrust to propel space shuttles skyward are being stacked outside the new Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
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A mockup of the bright orange external fuel tank that served as the shuttle vehicle's structural backbone for launch will be added to create a dramatic entrance for the $100 million Atlantis display that opens to the public June 29.

"Starting June 29, visitors will be able to get up close to the boosters and external tank in a way that only NASA personnel have been able to experience before. Should guests stop for just a moment and imagine the brave astronauts inside Atlantis, strapped to these explosive, fuel-filled SRBs and ET and rocketing into space, goose bumps are guaranteed. And that's before guests even set foot inside," said Bill Moore, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Privately financed and operated, the visitor center is constructing the sprawling new building to showcase the storied legacy of the 135 space shuttle missions and pay tribute to the Hubble Space Telescope with a life-sized model and an interactive setup depicting the International Space Station to climb through.

The star attraction is Atlantis, the spaceplane that flew the program's final flight in July 2011 before being decommissioned and prepped for museum display.

Mounted atop steel pillars and tilted to port 43.21 degrees, Atlantis will have her payload bay doors open and appear to spectators as an orbiter seemingly still soaring above Earth with a massive television screen projecting space views to complete the effect.

Tourists will be able to walk under the vehicle, alongside on observation decks and around the rear to gaze at the replica main engines.

Atlantis arrived in her new home Nov. 2 and quickly was encased in a protective plastic wrap to keep construction dirt and debris off the orbiter's delicate blankets and tiles. Crews will uncover the ship April 25, then open the payload bay doors in a slow, delicate process throughout May to reach the final display configuration.

Getting inside the facility will involving walking through the 24-foot-tall archway created between to the bases of the solid rocket boosters now being erected in front of the entrance.

Credit: KSCVC
Penwal Industries Inc., a California-based engineering and fabrication company, designed and manufactured the boosters and tank for the visitor complex.

Buried more than 45 feet into the Florida soil, 54 underground supports were put in place to hold the display's 30-by-60-foot anchors that are themselves submerged six feet below the surface.

Just like the days of stacking the multi-segmented boosters in the Vehicle Assembly Building, these replicas came in five sections that a 200-foot-tall crane hoists into place and workers weld together.

Already half complete with 66,000- and 40,000-pound sections mated, the high-fidelity "stack" will see 28,000-pound segments and pointy nose cones added above and the aft skirts installed at the base through April 23.

Credit: KSCVC
The replica external tank, which held the half-million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to feed the orbiter main engines during launch, will be assembled through mid June. It was manufactured in four sections.

The display will stand 184 feet tall once completed.

"It's one thing for us to announce details and statistics about space shuttle Atlantis and its dramatic, 184-foot-tall entrance, but it is quite another to actually be here in person, standing at the foot of these absolutely massive high-fidelity space shuttle components," said Moore.