Space Shuttle Atlantis Retires to New Home at Kennedy Space Center

Filed under: Kennedy Space Center |

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Friday was a big day on the Space Coast as the veteran of 33 space flights, Space Shuttle Atlantis, reached her new home at Kennedy Space Center.

Atlantis began the 10-mile trek just before dawn as she emerged from the massive Vehicle Assembly Building riding atop a 76-wheeled platform. Commander Christopher Ferguson, pilot Douglas Hurley, flight engineer Rex Walheim and Sandra Magnus who were on board when Atlantis blasted off on NASA’s 135th and final shuttle flight on July 8, 2011 watched along with approximately 200 workers who had gathered in the early morning chill to see the NASA orbiter out in the open for the final time. Employees gathered in front of a long white banner that read, “We Made History,” and below that the single word “Atlantis.” They followed the spaceship for a block or two, then scattered as the shuttle transporter revved up to its maximum 2 mph amidst a convoy that included a dozen trucks and vans with their lights blinking.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Atlantis then made her way to the official NASA handing over ceremony at Kennedy Space Center Headquarters in the Base Operations Building, preceded for the final few hundred feet by the Merritt Island High School color guard and the Titusville High School marching band. Spaceport personnel, former astronauts, shuttle workers, and their families turned out in force to take pictures and share memories before the ceremony that officially turned Atlantis over to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The transport team then hauled Atlantis, sitting atop the Orbiter Transporter System over to Space Florida’s Exploration Park where she made a three hour stop.  This gave the public a chance to see the orbiter up close and although the Visitor Complex charged up to $90 a ticket most people reckoned it was well worth the admission ticket to be part of such an historical day.

Space Shuttle Atlantis on SR 405 / NASA Parkway

The shuttle then began her final journey to her new home at Kennedy Space Center and to get the shuttle from the VAB to the Visitor Complex, 120 light poles were taken down, along with 23 traffic signals and 56 traffic signs. It was a relatively straightforward task compared with the logistical challenges faced by the California Science Center when it moved Endeavour through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles a month ago!

The mastermind behind Atlantis’ slow march through Kennedy was sweating bullets nonetheless.

“It’s only a priceless artifact driving 9.8 miles and it weighs 164,000 pounds,” said Tim Macy, director of project development and construction for Kennedy’s visitor complex operator, the company Delaware North.

“Other than that, no pressure at all,” Macy said, laughing. “Only the eyes of the country and the world and everybody at NASA is watching us.”

Space Shuttle Atlantis and NASA astronauts

The shuttle was escorted along SR 405 in front of the Visitor Complex by over 30 NASA astronauts representing the whole space flight era and into her new display area. It’s here that visitors will have the opportunity for the next few days, until November 11th, to see Atlantis inside her new home as Kennedy Space Center offers a “Sneek-a-Peek” tour.

Construction crews will then begin closing in the display building and Atlantis will then be raised 36 feet off the ground and rotated 43 degrees so that it can be showcased on an angle as if it were in space… and as only the astronauts from its 33 space flights have previously had chance to see it…with both payload bay doors open and its KU-band antenna deployed.

“When the guests come to see the orbiter, their first look, their feet will basically be at the same height as the open bay doors,” Macy said. “So you’ll be able to look into the open bay of the orbiter. You’ll be able to go down a ramp and you’ll be able to walk below the orbiter and see the tiles up close. Except for the structure that’s holding it up, there’s no (problem) to see the whole orbiter from top to bottom.”

Fireworks welcome Atlantis

To complete the day, a 10 minute fireworks show illuminated the skies at Kennedy Space Center. It was a fitting way to round the day off and welcome Atlantis into retirement and to her new home.

The Atlantis display is scheduled to open in July 2013 and the exhibit will feature two sweeping architectural elements, or “wings” representing the space shuttle’s lunch and return. The outer layer of the building, which will be cloaked in iridescent hues of orange and gold, will represent the fiery glow of re-entry. The taller, internal wing of the building will also be covered in a shimmering tile pattern in varying tones of gray designed to represent the tiled underside of the orbiter. The six story exhibit being built adjacent to the existing Shuttle Launch Experience promises to be a great addition to what is already a fantastic place to visit. We look forward to reporting on progress of the display in the coming months.

More photos at and here’s some video:

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2 Responses to Space Shuttle Atlantis Retires to New Home at Kennedy Space Center

  1. Wonderful photos, Nigel! I’m building a plastic model kit of shuttle Columbia and in searching for reference imagery, I came upon your blog. Great stuff!

    December 7, 2012 at 9:18 pm

  2. Glad to be of help Steven. Make sure you check out as more photos exist on there.

    December 7, 2012 at 10:13 pm

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