On Saturday, Theme Park Review was able to attend the grand opening of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, easily the most important (and impressive) addition to hit the attraction since its opening in 1967. Now home to the actual Space Shuttle Atlantis from the shuttle program, this exhibit is the only one of the four shuttle exhibits to feature the shuttle on an angle, allowing guests to walk around and underneath the spacecraft in addition to seeing both payload bay doors fully open with the robotic arm fully extended. The exhibit also hosts a full scale recreation of the Hubble Space Telescope, also able to be walked around and beneath.
Unlike the other three shuttle exhibits, Space Shuttle Atlantis has been designed as a total experience, offering a gradual (but powerful) buildup to the reveal of the actual orbiter, including a pass underneath the towering rocket boosters (recreation) as well as two preshows. The complex has also merged into the existing Shuttle Launch Experience building, placing the formerly outside queue and buildup for that experience inside as a part of the larger complex.
There are a multitude of interactive experiences within the Space Shuttle Atlantis complex and so much information to absorb. We spent five hours in the complex alone and didn't nearly get to experience everything or read every detail presented. There is simply nothing to compare the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit to... The Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex has developed an awe-inspiring package that represents all that the shuttle program meant to Florida, to the United States and to the world, all while allowing guests to really see everything that the shuttle program was operationally in ways never before presented.
I couldn't sing high enough praise if I tried. The Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit is a marvel of its own kind and deserves your visit as soon as you can make it--I'll definitely be revisiting it very soon!
It is hard to believe just how much the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit has changed the Visitor Complex's skyline in a matter of two years, and that change can be witnessed as soon as you enter the parking lot.
And today was a very special day!
As a part of the preparations for the new exhibit's expected popularity, a new primary entrance for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex was created near the rock garden.
We've got credentials!
The processional of astronauts began!
John Zarrella, CNN's principal correspondant for the U.S. space program was the host for the day's grand opening ceremonies.
Every astronaut in attendance received a personal introduction including a list of the flights they had been involved in during their careers with the shuttle program.
Rick Abramson, President of Delaware North Parks & Resorts (the company that operates the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex) presented some moving words regarding the journey the complex and his company went through to get to this grand opening.
Robert Cabana, Director of Kennedy Space Center and former astronaut was also present to speak. Interestingly enough, I met him years ago at a shuttle program event hosted at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort.
Another recognizable face was Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator who was on hand to give the final speech.
The opening ceremony was capped off with a countdown to the exhibit's "launch."
They did mean "launch" after all!
After the ceremony we were brought into the exhibit's main space to get a photo with all of the astronauts in attendance.
I even had the chance to get a photo with Charles Bolden!
Prepare yourself because from this point on, you'll be seeing lots of photos of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Having not yet visited during the new attraction's soft openings, we went back around to experience the entire exhibit from start to finish as the guests would.
The second preshow presents the shuttle's journey on a unique canvas...
Just a word of advice... See this preshow twice if you can. Watch first from the front, as the "big reveal" is best there. Watch it a second time from the back to get the full impact of the preshow's story.
The big reveal evokes a wide range of emotion from the guests. We heard from others that they had seen tears, and we heard cheering, clapping and plenty of "oohs" and "aws,"
Cameras fly out instantly.
It is at this point when my jaw hit the floor.
John Zarrella hung around in the exhibit to see the guest reaction, and was more than happy to take a photo!
Even though this isn't THE Hubble Telescope, the scale recreation is awe inspiring all the same. And it is huge!
Scattered throughout the exhibit are tons of interactive simulators and learning tablets, including this spacewalk simulator.
Seeing the payloard bay doors wide open with the robotic arm extended overhead of the guests is also stunning.
An overview of the top floor's layout, filled with the brim with things to see and do!
These interactive touchscreens were fun to play with and presented lots of information I'd never seen before!
It isn't just about the space shuttle after all...
One of the shuttle's boosters was also on display.
Also on the top floor is a crawl-through space modeled after the International Space Station for the kids.
The grand reveal from the preshow (we went back several times) is awesome.
Standing underneath the shuttle is just as awe-inspiring.
They have a neat run-through experience that simulates the journey of landing the shuttle.
There's also a fun looking slide, though it was unfortunately not yet open during our visit.
There's an interactive projection game also on the ground floor.
There are also scale models of the space shuttle on the ground floor.
All of these are really great to check out!
There's a simulator for lining up the shuttle with the fuel tank and rocket boosters.
The banners that were carried in front and behind of the Space Shuttle Atlantis as it was rolled to its final home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Ever have the desire to play with the shuttle's tires?
I just love this!
A touching tribute to Challenger and Columbia.
And yes, there is a space shuttle restroom simulator, complete with "aiming monitor" for increase accuracy.
No, you don't actually use it. Yes, they actually have a monitor on the shuttle for increased accuracy.
There are so many fun and interactive displays to see at the exhibit, you really can spend hours here!
This is the prototype glider that inspired the design of the reusable space shuttle. It is seen in both preshows as well, tying the story in from start to finish.
Standing under the replica of the Hubble Telescope is also very impressive!
On the ground floor I tried my hand at landing the space shuttle...
Apparently my years of training as a pilot without auto pilot on Mission: Space have served me well. Thanks Gary!
There is also a (more difficult) simulator allowing you to dock the shuttle with the International Space Station.
Fast forward 2:26 later... I docked the shuttle too fast, thus failing this challenge.
The fact that they merged the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit with the Shuttle Launch Experience totally took me by surprise. This was seriously the smartest move they could've made. Now the launch experience feels like an extra part of the Atlantis exhibit and the lines are significantly shorter, making the wait for the simulator no more than ten minutes.
Such a smart move!
"Silly humans! All rides must end at the gift shop!"
There's certainly no shortage of Atlantis gear!
An overview of the entire exhibit as it looks outside.
Let's go back in again!
This exhibit was clearly built not only with the guests in mind, but with all of those who worked on the space shuttle program throughout the years.
Looking back out from the queue at the rest of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
I really, really love this.
The money shot!
You merely an arm's reach away!
Moving down and around the shuttle, you can see just how it interacts with the design of the walkable floorspace.
Hard to believe!
This really is something else!
Awesome. Just awesome.
While we were here I figured we could check out the temporary Angry Birds Space Encounter.
This was definitely the oddest mirror maze I'd ever been in.
But this was awesome!
Also new as a part of the Visitor Complex's upgrades was the Rocket Garden Cafe.
The Rocket Garden is still an iconic part of the Kennedy Space Center experience.
Looking back as we left. I really didn't want to leave yet!
The building from the open doors over to the right (and beyond) is a part of the original entrance complex, no longer in use.
The great new fountain at the front of the new entrance.
Another look back...
The new complex makes quite the visual statement driving in and out of the parking lot.
Note: The building on the left of the main building is the Shuttle Launch Experience that was later connected to the new exhibit.
And we'll close with some official high resolution photos courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Thanks again to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for hosting us at this amazing event.
I cannot sing high enough praise for the new Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit. It is truly unlike anything else I've ever experienced and I cannot wait to go back!
Change the scheme, Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls if you would be so kind!
Very cool! I checked out Endeavor in Los Angeles, and it was definitely awe inspiring. And in typical LA fashion, instead of a full on impressive exhibit (which they are still trying to raise money for), the shuttle is just in a giant temporary building.
This exhibit looks AWESOME and completely blows the LA one away! I did the VIP tour of KSC like 10 years ago...this exhibit will definitely bring me back for the first time since then!
Impressive. I will need to make it down there some time. One of the local museums up here is collecting a load of Space Shuttle related artifacts, such as one of the orange external fuel tanks and one of the simulators, though they are still trying to raise money to put together a building to house everything..
Very impressive such a stunning exibit for a stunning vehicle. I used to work for the media and have covered a few launches and one landing. My first launch viewing was Discovery in 1988 after the downtime following Challenger. Kennedy Space Center is top notch all the way, you can't help but be impressed with everything on the Space Center grounds. I can't wait to see this for myself with my son.
This really looks like a great exhibit. It looks very fun and informative. I've always been a space nerd (well mostly just a nerd, but especially for space or the ocean.) I haven't been to the Kennedy Space Center in a very long time. I really need to go back there now. It looks spectacular.
Great trip report. The shuttle is displayed much better than the one at NYC. I will definitely have to check it out the next time I am in Florida.
The Kennedy Space Center was definitely one of the key players in the shuttle program since everything launched from there. But as soon as it cleared the launch tower, mission control in Houston took over for the rest of the flight.
I worked three years as a shuttle safety engineer back in the 90's at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. I still find it sad that Houston didn't get a shuttle. Houston is the center for manned space flight. All of the astronauts trained and lived here. The main home of the shuttle program was here. All of the engineers that designed the missions and worked on the shuttle lived here also.
Awesome pictures. I love how they displayed the shuttle as if it was flying in orbit.
Native Houstonian, rocket scientist, mobile DJ, theme park enthusiast, geek, Youtuber, and community activist.
We've been to Kennedy Space Centre in November 2012 and we had the pleasure to see Atlantis from outside, when they build this huge building. We stopped right in the middle of the street to take pictures. It is amazing to see how this whole complex now looks in the end!!! We will definitely visit Kennedy Space Centre again, when we come back to Florida!!!!
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