Monday, April 6, 2015



Booster rockets for Space Shuttle Atlantis

            The exploration of the Space Shuttle Atlantis was an amazing attraction for us one morning at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, Fla.  The full-scale external tank and two solid rocket boosters have been replicated and stand outside the new $100 million building that is now the home of Atlantis, which had made 33 missions to the international space station. 

            Our experience involved a sequence of events.  First, we walked up a long winding staircase to enter a large room where we stood to watch a movie on three screens.  We heard the story of the need for and the development of a space vehicle that could carry materials and personnel to the space station that is continuously circling the planet.

            Then the doors opened into a space where we were surrounded by a series of films showing the space shuttle in operation.   The shape of the screens gives the viewer a sense not only of movement but also of the world tipping and turning around you as the shuttle moves through space.  

             The walls moved up and slowly my eyes adjusted to seeing that the massive object in front of me was the original Atlantis Space Shuttle.   It is hanging from the ceiling with the doors open and with the astronauts' space suits hanging in various places around it.  We walked to an upper deck where we could experience more closely, by using interactive exhibits, what the experience had been like for the astronauts in training and in living in the international space station. 

             A mockup of the space station hangs in another part of the room and has an entrance for crawling into and through it.  While an occasional adult was doing just that, it was mostly children who were scrambling  through.

            Next we scrutinized a highly detailed model of the Hubble Space Telescope that was the size of a school bus. Further on were more interactive exhibits.  One of the simulators showed the viewer how the tools could be manipulated to make repairs on the space station.  

Space Shuttle Atlantis

            Our Road Scholar guide was really pushing to see that we all were able to experience the Shuttle Launch Experience that at the moment seemed to be the gallery’s biggest attraction.  We walked up a long winding staircase to a room with two large TVs where a series of astronauts told us about their experiences being shot into space at 17 thousand miles an hour and living in the station.  I was amazed at how many astronauts  had made 3, 4, and 5 trips into space over time, and how some of them looked to be in their fifties and even one is his sixties.  

            When I asked later how many individuals had made the trip to the space station, I was told that with the Japanese, Russians and others it was probably over 300 Americans and another 300 people from other countries.  

            With their encouragement we were eager for the next step, which was to be strapped into a seat in the shuttle simulator to experience for ourselves what it was like to be shot into space.   We went through a few minutes of preparation and then the five minutes of being shot into space.  

            The seats turned up and moved in the direction the shuttle was flying.  The noise of the rockets was loud so we all had helmets over our ears, and we had been informed about how noise differed depending on which rockets were firing.  Our heads were bumping back and forth; our bodies were shaking with the vibrations.  And as we moved further out into space, the rockets shut off and there was just silence.   As we leveled out, the skylights opened, and we had a tremendous view of the earth that appeared to be spinning above us. With the progress in technology--and in special effects with simulators--we are living in a fascinating time.

Astronauts' space suit for working outside the space station

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