* Atlantis retired to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
* Shuttle exhibit set to open July 2013
* NASA revamping Florida spaceport for new rockets
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov 2 NASA's last space
shuttle rolled out of a hangar on Friday and traveled down the
road to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to begin a new
life as a museum piece.
Atlantis is the third and final shuttle to be retired and
turned over for public display after the end of the 30-year-old
shuttle program last year.
"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because we had it,"
shuttle manager Patty Stratton told workers gathered before dawn
outside the Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building.
The 1960s-era Apollo complex, later used to pair shuttles
with booster rockets and fuel tanks for flight, now stands
Kennedy Space Center is in the midst of a transition to
support a planned heavy-lift rocket and deep space capsule that
can fly astronauts to destinations beyond the International
Space Station's 250-mile (402 km) orbit.
NASA intends to turn over station crew ferry flights to
For now, Russia has the only transportation system to fly
astronauts to the station, a service that costs the United
States more than $60 million per seat.
Mounted on top of a 76-wheel flatbed trailer, Atlantis began
its final journey before dawn on a clear and cool autumn day at
the seaside Florida spaceport. Several stops were planned along
the 10-mile (16-km) trek before the spaceship reaches the
Visitor Complex around 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).
Hundreds of current and former employees, including dozens
of astronauts, paraded with the shuttle as it slowly made its
way beyond the space center's security gates into the publicly
accessible Exploration Park, where about 8,000 people were
expected to welcome Atlantis.
"Today marks the end of a phenomenal 30-year program," said
Kennedy Space Center director Robert Cabana, during a ceremony
to sign over the shuttle to Delaware North Companies Parks &
Resorts, which operates the visitors' center under a contract
"Atlantis now takes on a mission of inspiration for future
generations," Cabana said.
Between its debut flight in 1985 and the shuttle finale in
July 2011, Atlantis racked up more than 306 days in space,
including seven missions to the now-defunct Russian space
station Mir and 12 flights to the jointly owned international
outpost, a $100 billion project of 15 nations.
Atlantis is the last of NASA's three surviving spaceships to
be retired. Discovery is located at the National Air and Space
Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and
Endeavour was turned over to the California Science Center in
Two shuttles, Challenger and Columbia, were lost in
accidents that claimed the lives of 14 astronauts. A prototype
shuttle, Enterprise, was given to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space
Museum in New York City.
Delaware North is designing a $100 million exhibit scheduled
to open in July 2013 to showcase Atlantis and educate the public
about the shuttle program.
The ship will be suspended from a pedestal, belly up with
its cargo bay doors open as if it were flying in space.
"It'll be a tremendous exhibit," said NASA spokesman Michael
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Vicki Allen)