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Atlantis launches again -- as museum display

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CAPE CANAVERAL (FOX 13) -

The huge new building at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is wrapped in a vapor trail. At the entrance stands a full-scale replica of the space shuttle's external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters -- the full 184 feet tall.

"Welcome, folks, to the new home of Atlantis," says a worker to visitors who have luckily happened upon a dress rehearsal of the new attraction that houses the retired NASA space shuttle Atlantis.

THE SHUTTLE STORY

In a new, highly-produced short film, actors lay out the history of the shuttle program that stretched for more than 30 years. "It's not a rocket, it's a shuttle," is part of the dialogue as the story explains how NASA transformed its focus after the Apollo program to a reusable spacecraft that could take off like a rocket and land like a plane.

HISTORY AT AN ANGLE

The experience moves quickly as the crowd takes a few steps and Atlantis is revealed, 30 feet off the floor of the theatre, seemingly floating in space. Atlantis is titled at an angle of 43.21 degrees to her port side.

"We really wanted to have it so it looked like you were looking out the window of the International Space Station and give you the view an astronaut might see as she pulled away," explained Tim Macy, director of the KSC Visitor Complex.

CAPTURING THE KIDS

The private company that operates the visitor complex spent $100-million on the new Atlantis attraction. Part of the mission is to capture the video game generation.

"We're going to sneak up on them," continued Macy. "There are 60 interactive exhibits here along with Atlantis."

The exhibits include flight simulators that allow guests to virtually dock with the space station and land the shuttle.

THE ASTRONAUT TEST

Another important audience is the thousands of people who built and flew the shuttles for 30 years.

"This is truly incredible," observed Jim "J.R." Reilly, a former astronaut who flew two missions aboard Atlantis. "People will get an appreciation of what this vehicle did."

Among its accomplishments, the shuttle fleet launched and repaired the Hubble Telescope and flew dozens of missions to build the International Space Station.

FINAL STAND OF ATLANTIS

Atlantis was built in 1985, the fifth of six shuttles built by NASA. It made its final landing in July 2011. The shuttle's final test may be how many people come to see the Atlantis exhibit.

"Orlando is a tough market," observed Macy. "But, you know what? This is real, and this is a certain niche that no one else can match."

He calls the shuttle an icon and says it will be housed here forever. In fact, the building and even the mockup tank and boosters outside are engineered to withstand a Category 3 hurricane.

Three other retired shuttles are on display: Enterprise is in New York, Discovery in Washington, D.C., and Endeavour in Los Angeles.

LINK: http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/atlantis.aspx

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