Unwrapping the space shuttle Atlantis

The space shuttle Atlantis began to spread her wings Thursday, escaping from the protective shield of plastic that had encased the orbiter since November to keep construction dirt and dust off her delicate exterior.

The ship is the showcase of the new display hall being built at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It will be completed for a grand opening to the public June 29.

Operating aboard man-lifts with cutting devices, workers removed the plastic wrap in sheets, first around the nose, then the tail and along both sides of the fuselage. They will finish revealing the payload bay doors and the starboard wing on Friday.

Here is our gallery of Thursday's unveiling.

Atlantis is perched atop support pedestals and angled at 43.21 degrees to simulate still flying in orbit. Next month, technicians will open the payload bay doors for the museum display.

See our coverage of Atlantis' retirement.

Photo credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now

Expedition 29 Patch
Space models