This week I got to visit Atlantis. Not the mythical island, but rather the ship, the Space Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center. The visit was part of my summer vacation, spoiling myself by doing something with my family almost every day. The official ‘launch’ of the exhibit is Saturday, we went early because it worked with our schedule and they had a nice discount for Florida residents, with me hoping that they would be doing a soft open for Atlantis – and they were!
You walk up to the exhibit by going under a vertical replica of the fuel tank and solid rocket boosters, then wind your way up a few floors to the top where you see a short movie, then another short presentation, then you move forward to see Atlantis. It’s mounted at an angle so you can see into the cargo bay from the top floor, then you work your way down you can really see the tiles on the bottom. I had heard about the angled/suspended display and wasn’t sure, but after seeing it, they chose well.
It was definitely interesting to be up close,to see the details. I’m old enough to remember the Enterprise test flights and I went to one of the first shuttle launches – hard to describe how powerful the experience was – the air literally vibrating,you could feel the intensity more than 5 miles away. I remember the struggles with the tiles that wouldn’t stay glued on. Up close it looked used, but solid.
It’s interesting the things that touch us and how (and I guess why). Most planes are interesting and somewhat amazing. Looking at a Shuttle up close, especially the bottom and the slow graceful curves designed to surf back into and through the atmosphere, reminded me far more of a ship than a plane. I envy a bit those that got to fly in it and I don’t regret a bit what we spent on it. The Shuttle never achieved the economies that were hoped for, but it did work, maybe too well, turning space travel for a time into something too mundane to merit attention.
It’s a nicely done exhibit, I’d say on par or better than the Saturn V exhibit at KSC. I hope they do more at the same level.