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Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit showcases the Johnson Space Center team and 'heartware'

Plenty of Johnson Space Center “heartware” will go on display as the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit opens on June 29 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Recorded memories, observations and anecdotes from dozens of the men and woman at JSC who helped ensure that NASA’s long running shuttle program came to a successful conclusion have been carefully woven into the multimedia portion of the new 90,000-square-foot Florida exhibit.

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A concept drawing showing Space Shuttle Atlantis as the centerpiece of a new exhibit showcasing the Space Shuttle Program. The display shows the orbiter in its on-orbit configuration, with the cargo bay doors open and robotic arm extended.
Displayed close to the buildings and launch pads from which shuttle orbiters took flight 135 times in all, Atlantis holds the distinction of carrying out the final mission. Touching down on July 21, 2011, with four astronauts, STS-135 also signaled the end of assembly for the U.S. segment of the International Space Station, whose legacy continues to unfold under JSC’s supervision.

Interviews with shuttle trainers, mission operations and engineering personnel, as well as astronauts and managers from the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Programs were recorded at JSC in March through the efforts of Design Island, the Orlando, Fla. company selected to manage the multimedia portion of the exhibit, and Barbara Phillips, a Florida production collaborator.

“Our goal is for people to walk away with not only an understanding of all the breakthroughs and all that went into the hardware side of the shuttle program, but to walk away with stories from the people who built and ran it, as well as the emotional connection they had,” said Tim Steinouer, Design Island’s president.

“We say it’s not about the hardware,” Phillips said. “It’s about the heartware.”

After 33 missions of its own, Atlantis serves as the centerpiece of a $100 million visitor center exhibit designed to provide the public with an inspiring, close-up 360-degree view of one of the world’s first reusable spacecraft.

With every moment exhibit visitors spend with Atlantis, they will have opportunities to experience the excitement of the Space Shuttle Program through firsthand accounts provided by professionals from JSC who managed the planning and in-flight mission activities, as well as those at the Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center, who prepared the orbiters for liftoff.

“We wanted to contribute to a well-rounded illustration of what this dynamic vehicle does and the teams that made it possible—the intricacies of processing, the complexities of launch, achieving orbit and docking, carrying out the space station assembly tasks and the trip home,” said Norm Knight, chief of the Flight Director Office.

Knight was responsible for enlisting colleagues from JSC for the multimedia production, as well as providing a segment of his own from the flight director’s perspective.

“They were all very eager to participate,” Knight said. “It’s still fresh in their minds and the passion is still there. All of their experiences, skills and know-how are now being applied to our current operational and development programs and will pay significant dividends for many years.”

An aerial view of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit and attraction is under construction.
An aerial view of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit and attraction is under construction.
Edited portions from every person interviewed at JSC are included in the final Space Shuttle Atlantis multimedia production.

That was accomplished through exploratory interviews conducted with each participant by telephone. Those were followed up with NASA’s help in vetting the final questions for the recorded interview sessions at JSC. Written transcripts were drawn from each of the interviews, explained Phillips.

The production team then combed through the transcripts to identify passages that could be edited from the video accounts and reassembled in quilt-like fashion to tell the larger shuttle story.

“We were tasked with really bringing the story to life through the interactive and immersive media and different digital experiences that allow guests to dive into mission details, astronaut biographies, or learn about NASA spinoffs that stemmed from the research and technology of the shuttle program,” Steinhouer said. “We also allow them to virtually place themselves in the simulations the way shuttle crews did to train, for instance, with the robot arm or land the shuttle.”

For years to come, Space Shuttle Atlantis should leave visitors confident in the future of space exploration.

“They will go, ‘My, goodness, it took a lot of people to make this happen, and these are just incredibly talented people,’” Phillips said. “They will know we are still going, and there is plenty more to come.”


Mark Carreau
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-3317

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