June 2, 2007 / 3:54 PM / in 12 years

NASA opens space shuttle ride for the earthbound

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - If you’re not one of the seven people scheduled to ride on the space shuttle next week, take heart: NASA has opened a launch simulator for the rest of us.

Space shuttle Atlantis rolls-out to launch pad 39A aboard the shuttle transporter at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida May 15, 2007. If you're not one of the seven people scheduled to ride on the space shuttle next week, take heart: NASA has opened a launch simulator for the rest of us. REUTERS/Charles W Luzier

It won’t take years of training, and your commitment to space travel can be over in 30 minutes or so, depending on how long the lines are.

Of course, it doesn’t really go anywhere. But for a few minutes, as you tip backward in your seat and let the special effects of the simulated rocket ride take hold, it’s easy enough to suspend disbelief.

That’s the appeal of the Shuttle Launch Experience, a $60 million attraction that opened last weekend at Kennedy Space Center’s Visitors Complex in central Florida.

With input from 27 current and former shuttle astronauts, designer BRC Imagination Arts of Burbank, California, spent years crafting an experience that would come as close as possible to a real shuttle launch.

BRC chief Bob Rogers says the experience is more than a ride. “We don’t do empty-headed stuff,” he said in an interview.

Before people strap in, they get to hear a breezy, videotaped lecture about space shuttle technology given by veteran astronaut Charlie Bolden.

It’s a good overview of the program, though the shuttle’s impending retirement may make the details a bit irrelevant.

The shuttles are being mothballed in 2010 because they did not meet their original intent of delivering people and cargo to low-Earth orbit safely, cheaply and often.

There is no better reminder of this than the fact that after 25 years of shuttle flights, ordinary people are relegated to a simulator, however realistic it may be.

Nevertheless, the Shuttle Launch Experience is a good ride, with enough sound, vibration and special effects to launch imaginations, if nothing else.

But for those who actually want to rocket into space, the experience might fall flat.

At the end of the “launch,” the shuttle’s cargo bay doors open, and while the sight that unfolds may well be state-of-the-art, with an orbital view of Italy projected onto a curved screen and a black-sky background flecked with moving stars, it may be hard not to feel a bit let down.

“It’s 100 times more beautiful in person,” says an astronaut in one of the video clips before the start of the ride.

Adult general admission tickets to the Kennedy Space Center’s Visitors Complex are about $40 each, and there is no additional charge for a ride on the Shuttle Launch Experience.

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