When I was asked if I would be willing to fly to the Kennedy Space Center and report on an event, I immediately agreed. Then, about a week later, I remembered having called back and asked what I should do. Not that it mattered, I'd like to write a few thousand words about the national championships in crochet when they started to host them at KSC. I had not been there for years, ever since the Space Shuttle program was over, and I was looking forward to the exhibit being created for the fourth member of the shuttle fleet, Atlantis. Imagine my reaction when I found out that the event that Hackaday wanted to inform me about, the Cornell Cup Final, would culminate in a private visit to the Atlantis exhibition after the normal parking hours. After that, the winners of the contest would be announced during a dinner held in under the orbiter himself. It promised to be an unforgettable evening for the students, a well-deserved reward for the incredible work they had done during the competition.
Now, remember, the organizers of the Cornell Cup and Kennedy Space Center staff should really be praised. It was an incredible night and everyone I talked to felt humbled by the unique experience. There was a real, tangible energy that you just can not make. Of course, nobody who sat at Atlantis that night was more excited than the students. Although maybe I came close behind.
I admit it was bittersweet to see such an incredible piece of technology transformed into a museum piece. it looked like Atlantis could leave for another mission anytime. However, it is undeniable that the exhibition is celebrating the history and achievements of the space shuttle program in a fantastic way. NASA officially views the surviving shuttle orbiters as a "mission of inspiration." So they are not mothballed somewhere in the desert in a hangar, but exhibited where the public can get in touch with one of the greatest achievements of the humanities. Judging by the response I've seen, the mission is indeed doing quite well.
If you have the means to do so, be sure to travel to Cape Canaveral to see Atlantis and all the other fascinating pieces of space travel history housed at the KSC. There is absolutely no substitute for seeing the original, but if you can not fully embark on the journey to Florida, this report should give you a taste of what the exhibit has to offer with the kind permission of your humble writer. Emotional Introduction  Before you see Atlantis you enter a long corridor that winds towards the center of the building. There are beautiful pictures from the history of the shuttle program and inspirational quotes about how it was to build and fly this incredible spaceship on the walls to reassure you, but it's still a line with a different name. The designers have clearly understood that the Atlantis exhibit at KSC will be a great magnet, and have therefore made every effort to ensure that the long queue of visitors feels as comfortable as possible.
With the park closed, we did not have to worry about the crowds. We were able to move quickly through this area and straight to the theater. On either side of the screen, the walls were adorned with classic images of vehicles that bore only a transient resemblance to the final Space Shuttle, an indication of the kind of presentation we wanted to see. A KSC staff member then spoke and said we would see a twelve-minute film about the origins of the space shuttle's radical design and the challenges of putting it into reality.
The movie itself was pretty well done, though he did have that somewhat hokey feel that seems to be a hallmark of historical reenactments. They have even done a respectable job by aging the actors who played the various engineers involved in the project over the decade-long development process between Max Faget's early concepts for a winged orbiter and the first shuttle flight in 1981.
That said, it somehow seemed strange to Atlantis . The design and construction process shown in the film was apparently Columbia the first operational shuttle that was tragically lost in 2003. I can understand the desire to show the origins of the shuttle program, but how it was I felt as if most people thought they saw the "original" space shuttle.
After the film was finished, we were taken to another theater, this time much smaller and with around screen. Here you will be pampered with real shuttle footage during takeoff and landing, with computer-generated renderings for the time in space.
In the final moments of the presentation Atlantis is shown in the room and approaches the viewer. To the sound of the fanfare, the screen plunged back into the ceiling, revealing the real shuttle behind it, suspended at the angle it was at the end of the video. It was an impressive effect, and more than a few real gasps were heard in the audience.
In the presence of a Giant
We've seen all the pictures and videos of them, but if you've never seen one, you may not realize just how unbelievably big the Space Shuttle really is. When the screen went up and the audience realized that this mammoth spacecraft was only a few steps away from us, it was pretty intimidating. Maybe a bit scary, on a subconscious level. Suspended in an otherworldly angle, the robot arm stretched over your head, you can hardly believe it. In fact, I've heard several students asking each other if it's the real Atlantis or some kind of model created for the show.
At this level: a The walkway runs the full length of the orbiter, giving you the best possible view. With the skin of the craft perhaps only a meter away from you, you can appreciate all the tiny surface details that never really pop up in pictures. Many of the observers were surprised to see that the skin of the vehicle is not smooth as an airplane, but a literal patchwork of thick and lumpy thermal blankets. I know, it's a thought that makes such a wonderful machine completely inappropriate, but up close, I could not shake the feeling that it looked like a plush toy for kids.
There is also an elevated platform that gives you a slightly higher viewing angle. This gives a good view of the empty hold and another way to see the size of the vehicle. All the persons present could have easily fitted in the cavernous room to have room.
In this way, augmented reality terminals are dotted, which overlay captions for the various components of the spacecraft over the live video feed of a camera mounted on the back. You can touch the various icons for a brief description of each system and 3D close-up shots.
It was an interesting configuration, but I have to admit that the augmented reality aspect seemed pointless. The terminals do not move beyond a vertical setting for viewers of different heights, so it looks like they simply placed the information over a still image of that section of the shuttle. Hopefully, in the future, they can improve the system and allow you to move the terminals left and right to get information about different sections of the vehicle.
As soon as you have had enough Atlantis You descend yourself to the ground floor of the building, which houses most of the artefacts and exhibits. Here are several relics to see, such as two of the Michelin tires that flew during the last mission of the shuttle program, and the "Beanie Cap" ventilation hood, with the gaseous oxygen was discharged from the external tank before lifting ,  They were all fascinating in their own way, but for me, one of the most impressive objects exhibited here was a small balsa sailor. Max Faget built this small model in April 1969 to demonstrate his idea for a spaceship that launches vertically like a rocket and lands horizontally like an airplane.
On the whole, it is almost unrecognizable as the starting point for the shuttle hovering above in the air. There is only the slightest sign of family resemblance: a slightly upturned nose, a box-shaped hull, and the large control panel for the "body flap" at the stern. Nevertheless, this small model was the first step towards a fundamental change in the design of spacecraft.
Honoring the Fallen
It is convenient that you can not leave the building without seeing it Atlantis Exhibition dedicated to the fourteen astronauts who died during the shuttle program have lost. Personal items for each astronaut donated by their families are displayed in illuminated boxes that line a short corridor that leads into a silent and dimly lit room. Here visitors are offered a rare and sobering sight: much of the Challenger hull and the cockpit window frames from Columbia .
Visitors go through the snapshots of the fourteen lives of the astronauts before they see the debris. The memorial makes it clear that the destruction of Challenger and Columbia had a profound impact on the shuttle program and NASA as a whole: it was the human element that should never be forgotten ,
Mission of Inspiration
As I said at the beginning, this brief account of my experience is not a substitute for the actual seeing of Atlantis personally exhibiting. These are the elements that have struck me the most, but represent only a small fraction of everything there was to see and do. From the impressive shuttle launch simulator to the Hubble Space Telescope model, this one building has so much space that no two visitors will have the same experience.
But no matter which course you plan through the permanent home of the Space Shuttle Atlantis one thing is very clear: NASA has done an incredible job honoring the program and making it accessible to visitors of all ages make this exhibition. While the general consensus is that it was a mistake to siphon off the shuttle fleet without a clear successor, and that the American space program still feels its impact, a room full of college students on every inch of the exhibit has given me made it clear that it is really something like a double-edged sword.
The public has never had such access to the shuttle during their years of operation, and now that they are retired, they will inspire future generations of scientists and engineers in a way that was not possible before. Atlantis may never fly again, but its mission is far from over.