Spaceflight Now

Atlantis' payload bay doors swing open for display

Posted: May 11, 2013

The clamshell payload bay doors of space shuttle Atlantis swung open this week at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as the retired ship is configured to mimic her flying days in orbit.

Credit: NASA video
Large metal clamps were attached to the support structures on the upper surfaces of the doors and cables were rigged from the ceiling. The contraption slowly pulled the delicate starboard door opened Tuesday morning, followed by deploying the Ku-band dish antenna once used for high-speed communications, television downlink and rendezvous radar.

Opening the 60-foot-long port door went significantly quicker on Friday morning.

Workers will use suspension wires connected to the ceiling to hold the doors in their current state forever, allowing the bulky hardware needed for the opening to be removed in the coming days.

The Atlantis' permanent public exhibit depicts the shuttle in space, just pulling away from a visit to the International Space Station. She is mounted top beefy support struts and angled at 43.21 degrees to port, with a massive high definition television screen on the wall behind to run inspiring views recorded in orbit.

A replica docking system is installed in the bay, like the one that would have been used to connect Atlantis to the station. A 50-foot-long inspection boom, added in the wake of Columbia, is mounted along the right side of the bay, although with its camera and laser package removed. A mockup robotic arm will soon be installed.

Credit: NASA video
Atlantis' cargo bay carried the Magellan probe that went to Venus and Galileo that was launched to Jupiter, several classified military satellites, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and also served as the operating base for scientific investigations to study the atmosphere during NASA's Mission to Planet Earth program and experimented with the first tethered satellite system.

The new era of cooperative spaceflight between the United States and Russia saw Atlantis at the forefront, flying seven trips to dock with the orbiting space station Mir.

In the International Space Station era, Atlantis lift the American laboratory module Destiny, Europe's laboratory module Columbus, the airlock named Quest, plus major sections of the outpost's truss backbone and power grid and a Russian module -- the Rassvet docking compartment.

Atlantis also made the final service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, accomplishing a dramatic five-spacewalk mission that overhauled the iconic observatory within the payload bay to add new scientific instruments and internal gear.

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

Complete with theaters, a full-size Hubble Space Telescope model and over 60 interactive displays to tell the space shuttle program's story, the Atlantis attraction opens to the public June 29.

"I want people to come in and enjoy what they are seeing. This is a one-of-a-kind artifact. There is nothing else like this. The way it is shown to the public here and presented, it's like no place else on Earth," said Tim Macy, KSCVC's director of project development.