CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA’s third and last surviving space shuttle will move to its retirement home on Friday after a 10-mile road trip from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Atlantis, which ended the 30-year-old space shuttle program with a final flight last year, will be the star attraction of a new $100 million exhibit at the privately operated Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex adjacent to the NASA spaceport.
Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, which operates the visitors’ center, plans to suspend the 154,000-pound (69,853-kg) spaceship from the ceiling with its cargo bay doors open to simulate the vehicle in orbit.
Atlantis, which flew 33 missions, is the third and last operational space shuttle to become a museum piece.
Discovery is on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Endeavour last month took a cross-country flight on a transporter plane to Los Angeles for display at the California Science Center.
The prototype shuttle Enterprise, which was used for atmospheric tests but never flew in space, was relocated from the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, located on the Hudson River in New York City.
The storm Sandy knocked out power to Enterprise’s pressurized pavilion as it passed over on Monday, causing the pavilion to deflate. The shuttle sustained minor damage, the museum said in a statement.
Travel plans for Atlantis are simple but moving a 122-foot long (37-meter), 78-foot (24-meter) wide spaceship requires planning.
“We have some logistics we’re handling but actually it’s really manageable,” said Tim Macy, director of project development and construction for Delaware North.
To make way for Atlantis, crews have temporarily removed 120 light poles, 23 traffic signals, 66 road signs and one high-voltage power line.
Perched aboard a 76-wheel transporter, Atlantis is scheduled to depart the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building around 6:30 a.m. EDT (1030 GMT) on Friday. After stopping for a NASA ceremony and viewing opportunities along the way, the shuttle should arrive at the Visitor Complex about 12 hours later.
One wall of the 90,000-square foot (8,361-square meter) building that will house Atlantis has been left off to accommodate the shuttle’s arrival.
“The backside of the building is wide open and allows us drive in. It is more like a carport right now,” Macy said. “As soon as we get it in, we start filling in behind it.”
With the departure of Atlantis, about 300 remaining shuttle contractors will find themselves out of a job.
NASA is in the midst of transitioning its Florida spaceport into a multi-user launch facility to support a variety of government and commercial rockets.
Three firms are designing spaceships to fly astronauts and fare-paying customers to and from orbit. NASA, meanwhile, is working on its own heavy-lift rocket and capsule to travel to destinations such as the moon and Mars that are beyond Earth’s orbit.
Editing by Jane Sutton and Bill Trott