At the end of the space shuttle program, four different locations received an orbiter from NASA: Kennedy Space Center, the California Science Center, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC, and the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York. KSC got the Atlantis, which was the last shuttle ever launched. The Atlantis Shuttle Experience grand opening ceremony was on Saturday, June 29, 2013. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Visitor’s Center, so I decided to go over and see what it’s like.
Space Shuttle Atlantis side view panorama – It’s displayed as if in orbit, with the cargo doors open, a satellite in the bay and the robot arm deployed.
In short, this new exhibit is outstanding. At the entrance to the building, there’s a full size model of the solid rocket boosters and fuel tank assembly. You enter and walk up a ramp to a room with a movie about the history of the shuttle program. Then you move into a second room with another movie about the launches before you finally enter the exhibit hall itself. The Atlantis is suspended as though it’s in orbit and you’re free to walk all around it and explore on several levels. In places you’re almost within arms reach – close enough to see a lot of detail including re-entry marks on the tiles. The hall also has many other exhibits including satellites, a transport van, space suit, a space station mock-up your kids can run through, and a group of simulators you can try including several where you attempt to land (OK if you must know, I crashed my simulated shuttle – but not too hard).
Space Shuttle Atlantis – front view
To put this into perspective, I went back through my photo archives to see if I had any previous photos of Atlantis and found several. Here are two – you can see they’re not as close up as the new ones are:
Atlantis on the pad in October 2009 before the STS 129 mission – This is as close as I got to a shuttle while they were operational.
Atlantis launch on STS 117 in June of 2007, just after SRB separation (made from Orlando, ~50 miles away)
And finally, here’s one last photo from my trip this week. It shows the Astronaut’s Memorial. In the background on the left you can see the Solid Rocket Booster assembly that stands in front of the building housing the Atlantis.
Astronaut’s Memorial – also known as the Space Mirror Memorial. The Atlantis Experience entrance is behind and on the left.
Photo hints: The light inside the exhibit hall is mixed so be careful with your white balance or shoot in RAW so you can adjust it in post processing. The lighting is also a bit dim. I shot at ISOs between 800 and 1600 with an aperture of f/4 and a shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/60 sec. I didn’t use a tripod, but I did have vibration reduction / optical stabilization. Atlantis is large – a wide-angle lens will help you fit all of it in the frame. I used a 24 – 120mm zoom lens and it worked well for most photos. I did have to make a multi shot panorama for the horizontal view above.
Here’s a link to my previous post on Kennedy Space Center. Here’s a link to the entry for the Atlantis on Wikipedia. Boing Boing has a really good review of the exhibit at this link. And here are some other links to news about the Atlantis Exhibit opening:
I’ve posted other Kennedy Space Center photos in this set on Flickr. Also, I’ve licensed the first photo above as Creative Commons. It’s free for non-commercial, no derivative use as long as you provide attribution. If you’d like to see / download a high-resolution version (~80MP), click it to go to Flickr. Then click on the “…” symbol at the bottom right of the photo and select “View all sizes”.
Living in Central Florida for so long, I feel a personal connection to the space program and I was extremely impressed with the Atlantis Exhibit. This vehicle flew 33 separate missions between October 1985 and July 2011 covering hundreds of orbits and over 126 million miles. It’s awesome to see something like this up close and I’m very grateful it’s nearby. But at the same time, it makes me a little sad. The shuttle program was wonderful, but it’s over now. With all the other competing priorities, will we ever have an ambitious space program again? I hope so.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
©2013, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved