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On Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 11 a.m., Delaware North Parks & Resorts, in partnership with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, broke ground on the future home of the space shuttle Atlantis to be located at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. NASA selected Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to permanently display space shuttle Atlantis in April 2011.
The $100 million, 65, 000 square-foot Atlantis exhibit will be the marquee element of the Visitor Complex’s 10-year master plan proposed by Delaware North Parks & Resorts, which has operated Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for NASA since 1995. The exhibit will provide guests a unique vantage point to view Atlantis up close, while telling the story of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program through a number of hands on, interactive and immersive mediums. The grand opening of the showcase facility is slated for summer 2013.
Speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony included (in order of appearance): Bill Moore, Chief Operating Officer, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex; Janet Petro, Deputy Director, John F. Kennedy Space Center; Jeremy M. Jacobs, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Delaware North Companies; Chris Ferguson, Commander, STS-135, Atlantis; and The Honorable Jennifer Carroll, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Florida. Distinguished guests included elected officials, leaders from the community; space and tourism industry representatives; and astronauts. Entertainment was provided by the Titusville High School band and guests were greeted by 33 Apollo elementary school students waiving Atlantis flags, each student representing an Atlantis mission. The groundbreaking commenced with a rendering of the national anthem sung by Jennifer Fiore, a member of the 920th Rescue Squadron.
"This is an incredible day for our nation’s space program, " said Moore. "Today marks the start of a new era in which this magnificent ship, Atlantis, which has traveled to space and back an astounding 33 times, will remain docked in her home port, displayed in all her glory with a new mission to uphold – to inspire a new generation of space explorers who will take us to even greater heights." Moore continued, "We are extremely proud and excited to break ground today on what will be the crown jewel of our 10-year master plan for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex."
During the ceremony, Moore provided a brief overview of the plans for the Atlantis exhibit and a rendering of the building exterior was revealed. Designed by PGAV Destinations, architects headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., and to be built by Whiting-Turner Contracting Company in Orlando, the six-story exhibit will be located in the Shuttle Plaza adjacent to the existing Shuttle Launch Experience.
A work of art in itself, the exterior of the Atlantis exhibit will be comprised of two sweeping architectural elements, or "wings" representing the space shuttle’s launch and return. The outer layer of the building, which will be cloaked in iridescent hues of orange and gold, represents the fiery-glow of reentry. The taller, internal wing of the building will be covered in a shimmering tile pattern in varying tones of gray designed to represent the tiled underside of the orbiter.
At the entrance to the Atlantis exhibit, guests will be greeted by a full-size, upright, replica external tank and two solid rocket boosters. On the opposite side of the tank and booster assembly, a silhouette of the orbiter is attached to show guests its exact size and placement. The 184-foot-tall space shuttle stack will give visitors a true sense of the massive size and awesome power used to thrust the shuttle into low-earth orbit, however, they will have to travel a little further and wait a few more moments to get up close to the real thing – the actual orbiter, Atlantis.
Further details concerning the $100 million exhibit will be revealed in phases as the project continues toward its opening date of summer 2013. One of just three of America’s remaining space-flown orbiters, Atlantis will be shown with payload bay doors open and the Canadarm extended. In the distance, a sliver of sunrise is revealed as the orbiter emerges from the far side of its 90-minute orbit around the earth.
Images kind courtesy Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.