Atlantis exhibit opening at Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- It's amazing how crews got Space Shuttle Atlantis to appear to soar above the ground in the world's most impressive space shuttle exhibit, opening this weekend.

Step into the new $100 million Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, and your jaw will hang open at exactly 43.21 degrees.

What a coincidence -- that's the exact angle this priceless spaceship has been hoisted to at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, 30 feet above the ground, as if it's sweeping past the earth.

No other retired shuttle will be shown this way. It's a way only a few free-floating astronauts have ever seen it.

"Walking in here, you get that 'Wow!' factor that I had," saidastronaut Tom Jones, who saw Atlantis just like this as he assembled theInternational Space Station. "It's almost like an instant flashback."

"It's so familiar and so accurately presented that you can see mygrubby spacesuit handprints all over the cargo bay handrails. I wasthere!"

Monster steel beams rise up from a three-foot-thick foundation. Theyhold Atlantis aloft by connecting to just three points -- each about thesize of a softball.

"Really, this building is a theater to show off Atlantis and theother 60 exhibits that we have in here," said Tim Macy, Atlantis projectdirector for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Macy's team took two weeks to delicately lift the 77-ton shuttle intoplace. They had to invent ways to open the long payload bay doors,since they would normally crack apart in earth's gravity.

"It's not just on its wheels. It's not just sitting in a warehousesomeplace. This is really in a position that you can get very, veryclose to it and you see her on flight," Macy said.

"You get that close to it, and you can't believe it's that perfect. It's as authentic as it gets."

NASA has taken out just a few parts that they plan to reuse; those have beenreplaced by replicas. Otherwise, everything on Atlantis is just as itwas when it touched down at the Kennedy Space Center after its finalmission.

Still, workers say the number one question people ask when they visitto preview the attraction is, "Is that really the real thing?"

The Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opens to the public on Saturday and it's included with admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.


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