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Space shuttle Atlantis' final trip short but still a challenge

October 20, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • Moving the space shuttle Atlantis to its new home in Florida next month won't be as difficult as Endeavour's recent journey through Los Angeles, but it still presents challenges.
Moving the space shuttle Atlantis to its new home in Florida next month won't… (John Raoux/Associated…)

Granted, moving Atlantis, the last of the retired space shuttles, won't be as difficult as Endeavour's recent, and tortuous, trip through Los Angeles. That journey required the chopping down of hundreds of trees — and Endeavour arrived 16 hours behind schedule

Still, moving Atlantis 9.8 miles will be no piece of cake.

“You’re talking about 165,000 pounds, a national treasure, a priceless artifact.... No pressure,’’ said Tim Macy, director of project development and construction for Delaware North Cos., which operates the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Florida.

Atlantis will be moved from Kennedy Space Center to the nearby visitors complex Nov. 2. The delivery will be a splashy all-day production, with tickets offering an up-close view of the shuttle selling for $90 for adults.

Space shuttle Endeavour's trek through L.A.: Time-lapse video | Photos

Shuttles have been delivered to Los Angeles, New York and the Washington area, flying on the back of a 747. In L.A., Endeavour’s 12-mile journey from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center was a three-day spectacle. In New York, the test shuttle Enterprise was carried by barge to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

In Florida, it’s just a short trip from Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building to the visitors complex, most of it on fenced-in NASA property. Even so, planning for the move has been underway for more than a year, and 120 light poles, 23 traffic signals and 56 traffic signs must be taken down to accommodate Atlantis, with its 78-foot wingspan.

The bigger challenge will be putting Atlantis on display, at a 43-degree angle with its payload doors open, Macy said. Its new $100-million home is due to open in July.

Atlantis will be moved at 2 mph on an apparatus used in the 1980s for transporting the orbiter. Its first stop will be at Kennedy Space Center headquarters, where NASA employees and former shuttle workers will gather for a ceremony attended by Atlantis’ last crew. It will move to Space Florida’s Exploration Park and then to its permanent home for a fireworks show.

Macy, who watched the Endeavour’s slow move through L.A., said he learned a lesson.

“Don’t take the shuttle through downtown Orlando.”

richard.simon@latimes.com

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