Payload Blog

Attraction Spotlight: Space Shuttle Atlantis

The shuttle is a ship like no other: the world's first reusable spacecraft carrying astronauts into orbit. NASA’s Space Shuttle Program gave us 30 years of experience in learning what it takes for humans to live and work off our planet. The shuttle played a major role in the modern advances of space exploration, like aiding in the construction and population of the International Space Station (ISS) and deploying and servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, just to name a few.

A fleet of five space shuttles launched humankind into space from Kennedy Space Center until the program ended in 2011 with STS-135 Atlantis. 

The launch of Atlantis STS-129
The launch of Atlantis STS-129.

Atlantis, at a glance:

  • Atlantis launched for the first time on October 3, 1985.
  • Starting with STS-71, Atlantis pioneered the Shuttle-Mir missions, flying the first seven missions to dock with the Russian space station.
  • Atlantis delivered several vital components to the ISS, including the U.S. laboratory module, Destiny and multiple sections of the Integrated Truss structure that makes up the station’s backbone.
  • Atlantis ferried and deployed the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the second of NASA’s great observatories, in 1991.
  • Her final mission, also the final Space Shuttle Program mission, carried more than 9,400 pounds of spare parts, spare equipment, and other supplies to the ISS, including 2,677 pounds of food. It also brought back nearly 5,700 pounds of unneeded materials from the station, back to Earth.
  • Atlantis completed 33 missions and logged more than 126 million miles and 307 days in space.

Did you know? Atlantis measures 122.17 feet long, roughly the size of three 40-foot-long school buses parked end to end!

This impressive machine now calls Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex home, continuing the program’s legacy for future generations. When planning a trip to the visitor complex, Space Shuttle Atlantis® is a don’t-miss attraction. Here is what you will see and experience inside...

An Immersive , One-of-a-Kind Attraction

Space Shuttle Atlantis takes you on a journey that mirrors the orbiter’s time in space and return to Earth. You’ll greet Atlantis on the top floor, seeing her suspended in space as only astronauts saw her: with the payload bay doors open and Canadarm fully extended. Her suspension is at a 43.21-degree angle, a lesser-known nod to a launch countdown. Explore various interactive exhibits that highlight what Atlantis did in space. Learn the different components inside and out of the orbiter and let you conduct a virtual spacewalk. You’ll also see a full-scale replica of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Space shuttle Atlantis, suspended in flight
Space shuttle Atlantis, suspended “in flight.”

As you move down to the lower level, you’ll get a 360-degree view of the orbiter before the S-Turn Run. The ramp purposefully illustrates the S-curve path a shuttle would take upon Earth’s reentry to slow down. Learn about the science of re-entry, and the dangers faced when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. Then, continue down the ramp to get to the main floor, or take the slide. It's 22-degree incline is exactly the same angle the shuttle used on its final approach as it prepared to land on Earth!

Tip: Look for Maxime Faget’s real Space Plane Prototype in the attraction after seeing its importance in the preshow!

On the bottom floor, you will get a closer look at how astronauts lived aboard the shuttle and the ISS, the expert mechanics and engineering of the orbiters, and the legacy of the Space Shuttle Program. The entrance to the Shuttle Launch Experience(R) is located on this level, as well as numerous training simulators to hone your skills.

Before you leave, be sure to visit Forever Remembered. This solemn tribute honors the 14 crewmembers of Challenger and Columbia. Here, learn about these brave astronauts and how their legacies live on through their missions and families.

Inside Forever Remembered
Inside Forever Remembered

With more than 60 interactive and immersive exhibits, Space Shuttle Atlantis is a moving celebration of one of mankind’s greatest achievements that’s sure to be as fascinating as it is inspiring. It is included with daily admission, and no visit to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is complete without making Atlantis a part of your day.