Skip to Main Content
Back to New Releases

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Space Shuttle Atlantis Invites Guests to ‘Be the Astronaut’

Space Shuttle Atlantis guests at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex can see the priceless, historic Atlantis spacecraft as only astronauts have seen it before – rotated 43.21 degrees with payload bay doors open and its Canadarm (robotic arm) extended, as if it has just undocked from the International Space Station.
But getting nose-to-nose with Atlantis is not all guests can do at this $100 million, 90,000-square-foot attraction. The immersive experience invites guests to “be the astronaut” with never-before-seen, technologically sophisticated multimedia presentations and more than 60 interactive, touch-screen experiences and high-tech simulators that bring to life the people, passion and patriotism of the 30-year Space Shuttle Program as well as the complexity and magnitude of the engineering marvel that launched like a rocket, flew in orbit like a spacecraft and landed on a runway like a glider. Space Shuttle Atlantis also highlights the astounding achievements made possible by the shuttle, most notably, the building of the International Space Station (ISS) and the deployment and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope.  
At Space Shuttle Atlantis, guests can:

  • Perform an extravehicular activity, or EVA. Guests can experience the sensation of working in weightlessness outside the space shuttle and the ISS as they perform tasks at various levels of difficulty by watching their own arms and hands, clad in protective space gear, on giant interactive technology monitors. As they perform various tasks such as inspecting the payload bay, participants can get a feel for just how slowly and carefully an astronaut must move to successfully use tools in space.
  • Operate the 250-ton crane in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). See what it takes to operate the powerful 250- and 170-ton cranes that were used to lift the orbiter into a vertical position inside the VAB and mate it to the external tank and solid rocket boosters. With two joysticks that move in increments of .001 inches, this simulation is as close as it gets to the actual training simulations used by VAB technicians.
  • Create sonic booms and pilot Atlantis to a safe landing. Guests “become” the space shuttle as they simulate a space shuttle landing using their own bodies. They’ll begin their re-entry journey halfway around the world – represented by a 3-foot-diameter “re-entry globe” – in Australia, then move through a series of four S-shaped turns representing the maneuvers the space shuttle must make to slow down from speeds in excess of 17,500 miles per hour to a safe landing speed of 247 miles per hour. And,  just as the space shuttle produces two sonic booms as its nose and tail re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere a half-second apart, so, too, will guests create their own sonic booms by jumping on a pneumatic pad before they glide down the steep incline of the Re-entry Slide to a safe landing back at Kennedy Space Center.
  • Train like an astronaut. The Astronaut Training Simulator Gallery features 21 consoles with exclusive simulator software closely based on the programs used by NASA’s astronaut corps. These realistic simulations let guests experience tasks just as they’re done in space, using only the limited window views, remote cameras and monitors. Astronauts in training can:
  • See if they’ve got the “Right Stuff” to be a shuttle commander by conducting a simulated shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, or SLF. Guests pilot the orbiter as it lands as a high-speed glider, with no second chance to pull up and approach the runway again.
  • Test their skills – and nerves – as they pilot the space shuttle in a simulated docking with the International Space Station in which pinpoint accuracy is essential.
  • Manipulate the robotic Canadarm, or Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, to remove a payload from the shuttle’s payload bay. Nimble fingers and steady nerves are required or both the payload and the shuttle may be damaged.
  • Kick up a chemical reaction and create a launch. Guests of all ages can have a blast –literally – playing the “Blast Off” game in the Space Shuttle Processing area. Beneath the authentic “beanie cap,” or vent hood, taken from Launch Pad 39B, they can kick molecules of hydrogen and oxygen together to create the liquid fuel that’s ignited in the space shuttle main engines during launch.
  • Strap in to the sights, sounds and sensations of a space shuttle launch. Shuttle Launch Experience, which opened in 2007, is now a part of Space Shuttle Atlantis. After coming nose to nose with the real spacecraft, guests can strap in and experience what NASA astronauts call the world’s most realistic simulation of a space shuttle launch.
  • Get an “X-ray view” of Atlantis’ control systems. Guests can manipulate a real-time camera linked to a monitor to scan the outside of Atlantis and zero in on shuttle “hot spots” using augmented reality, or what feels like X-ray vision, to examine the inner workings of the main propulsion system, reaction control system (RCS), front reaction control system (FRCS), orbital maneuvering system (OMS), and more.
  • Sneak a (virtual) peek inside. See what only the astronauts and select few have seen –the interior of Atlantis’ cockpit, middeck and payload bay. Guests can manipulate a real-time camera linked to a monitor and scan the outside of Atlantis, once again using augmented reality, to reveal a 360-degree view of Atlantis’ inner chambers.
  • Experience an orbital sunrise. From the vantage point of Atlantis in orbit, watch as the sun peeks around the edge of the slowly spinning Earth,  breaking the darkness with what astronaut Mike Mullane eloquently called the “indigo arc” then increasingly illuminating the atmosphere and Earth below in red, orange, yellow and then brilliant white. This experience, which takes place every 90 minutes in space, is recreated every 12 minutes on 20-by-110-foot LED backdrop to the majestic spacecraft.
  • Step aboard the International Space Station. Get a feel for what it’s like to live and work in space by crawling through a 1:5 high-fidelity replica of a portion of the ISS. Guests can visit four ISS modules outfitted with realistic graphics – Harmony, Destiny, Unity and the ISS’s Quest Airlock – and peek into the Columbus and Japanese Kibo modules to see how these individual pieces come together to create a floating bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, gym and laboratory rolled into one.
  • Float in space. Crawl through a 22-foot-long clear tube suspended 25 feet in the air, simulating the weightless sensation of space.
  • Go orbital. Explore the world of orbital mechanics and figure out just how much speed is necessary to make a spacecraft stay in orbit around the Earth – or fall out of orbit and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Bring to life shuttle program highlights. Bring any one of NASA’s 135 space shuttle missions to life on the 24-foot-long, multiscreen, multitouch interactive STS Timeline. Sensors detect movement beyond the screen and engage guests with fun facts and stunning graphics about the shuttle program, including mission highlights and “nail biters” as well as the astronaut crews, payloads, spacewalks, experiments, launches and landings, astronomy facts, and more.
  • Take the helm in the space shuttle cockpit. Become the commander or pilot in a space shuttle cockpit replica with a high-fidelity control panel and realistic ceiling graphics. Even guests who use wheelchairs can partake in this photo opportunity as the cockpit is split in two to provide easy access.
  • See what it’s like to sleep upside down. Get up close to high-fidelity replicas of selected space station areas, including the galley, or kitchen; upside-down astronaut sleeping quarters (it’s all the same in zero gravity!); and the exercise equipment the astronauts use daily to retain muscle mass, including the ARED weight machine and the COLBERT, or “Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill,” named for Stephen Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.
  • Sit on the space potty. Visitors are invited to take a seat on a high-fidelity replica of the space station’s toilet while reading informative, illustrated signage on how to successfully “part ways” with their waste. Much like the astronaut trainees in Houston, guests can –with the aid of an in-bowl camera and monitor on the wall – practice correctly aligning their bottoms to make a good seal and become certified to “go” in space.
  • See what it’s like to live and work aboard the International Space Station. On the main level of the ISS Gallery, guests can pay a virtual visit to the space station at the Microgravity Theater, a full-size, high-fidelity replica of the ISS’s Destiny module. Interactive touch screens offer a variety of topics about living and working aboard the ISS. The topics are brought to life by virtual hosts as well as real footage shot exclusively for the Microgravity Theater by actual ISS crewmembers, who are shown in zero gravity inside the ISS.
  • Gaze into deep space. Gain an appreciation for the vastness of the universe beyond our Earth at the Hubble Space Telescope area, where a short film and stunning imagery tell of the triumphs and tribulations of the first of NASA’s great space observatories.
  • Track the International Space Station. Pinpoint the exact location of the ISS and see live Twitter updates from current crewmembers. Tap the icons on this 16-by-4-foot interactive touch screen to learn about the experiments, research and space walks happening that day, as well as the many space shuttle missions that built the station.
  • Spin Atlantis’ wheels. Check out the tires used on Atlantis’ landing gear during its final mission, STS-135. Give them a spin and see the tread that remained after Atlantis’ high-speed, parachute-aided touchdown at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility July 21, 2011.
  • Get the inside scoop. Meet more than 70 people behind the 30-year Space Shuttle Program at seven interactive kiosks. Hear firsthand accounts from personnel at various NASA centers across the United States, from astronauts to space shuttle engineers and technicians, VAB crane operators to white room technicians – the last people to see the astronauts before launch.