Final trek for shuttle Atlantis, staying at Kennedy Space Center as tourist exhibit
The Associated Press
Published Friday, November 2, 2012 6:23AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, November 2, 2012 7:15AM EDT
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Atlantis' final journey to retirement is down broad industrial avenues, most of them off-limits to the public. So Friday's trek won't replicate the narrow, stop-and-go turns Endeavour encountered last month while navigating downtown Los Angeles.
The mastermind behind Atlantis' slow 10-mile march through Kennedy Space Center is sweating bullets nonetheless.
Atlantis is the last of NASA's space shuttles to hit the road. It was the last to blast into orbit, more than a year ago, and its final crew members were expected to join a few dozen other astronauts at Friday's daylong hurrah.
"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 Delaware North Cos.
"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. But we don't feel any pressure." He paused. "Of course, we feel pressure!"
The relocation of Atlantis has been plotted out for months, he noted, and experienced shuttle workers will take part.
"It's not like it's Tim and his buddies out here loading this up," Macy said last week. "We're using the expertise of NASA."
Atlantis will travel a mere 2 mph atop a 76-wheeled platform. The roundabout loop will take the shuttle past Kennedy's headquarters building for a ceremony and then to a still-under-design industrial park for public viewing. Tourist tickets run as high as $90 apiece for a chance to see the spaceship up close.
Crews removed 120 light poles, 23 traffic signals and 56 traffic signs in order for Atlantis to squeeze by. One high-voltage power line also had to come down. Staff trimmed back some scrub pines, but there was none of the widespread tree-axing that occurred in Los Angeles.
Atlantis will traverse just one noticeable incline, a highway ramp. The rest of the course is sea-level flat.
The grand entrance into Atlantis' new home also should be smooth going. One complete wall of the exhibit hall was kept off, carport-style, so the shuttle could roll right in. Construction will begin on the missing wall early next week.
Once safely inside, Atlantis will be plastic-wrapped for protection until the building is completed. The grand opening is set for July 2013.
Total exhibit cost: $100 million, a price borne by Delaware North.
Discovery, the oldest and most travelled space shuttle, was the first to leave the nest, zooming off to the Smithsonian in Virginia in April atop a modified jumbo jet. Endeavour, the baby of the fleet, headed west in September.
Here is a brief look at each of NASA's space shuttles in the order they flew, including the prototype Enterprise:
Enterprise: Shuttle prototype used in jetliner-drop tests over Edwards Air Force Base in California in 1977, never flew in space. Originally on display at Smithsonian Institution hangar in Virginia, it was flown to New York City this past April and moved into the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in June.
Columbia: Destroyed during descent on Feb. 1, 2003, after 28 missions stretching back to 1981. All seven astronauts were killed. The wreckage is stored in NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, for research purposes.
Challenger: Destroyed during launch on Jan. 28, 1986, after 10 missions stretching back to 1983. All seven astronauts were killed. Buried in a pair of abandoned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Discovery: Moved to Smithsonian Institution hangar in Virginia in April after 39 missions stretching back to 1984.
Atlantis: Being moved Friday to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center after 33 missions stretching back to 1985.
Endeavour: Flown to Los Angeles in September and moved into California Science Center in October after 25 missions stretching back to 1992. It was the replacement for space shuttle Challenger.