Ready to show off, Space Shuttle Atlantis peeks out of its shell

8:28 AM, Apr 26, 2013   |    comments
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The Space Shuttle Atlantis is unveiled Thursday afternoon as crews cut the shrink wrap off it as they continue to work on the new Shuttle Atlantis attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.


Cape Canaveral, FL (Florida Today) -- The nose emerged first, like a beak poking through an eggshell.

Freed from the white cover that had sheathed it for five months at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the retired shuttle orbiter appeared as if it could breathe through nostril-like forward thrusters.

Teams in cherry pickers continued to gently peel away more sections of plastic shrink wrap Thursday, revealing crew cabin windows and then, dramatically, a name in bold black letters: "Atlantis."

Onlookers cheered: Atlantis was itself again, showing off its space-worn tiles and blankets about two months before the new exhibit is scheduled to open for public display.

"You get to see that she's real," said Tim Macy, director of project development and construction. "It's been in this cocoon and didn't look real for a long time."

The cocoon protected Atlantis from dust and debris while a $100 million exhibit was built around it.

The orbiter arrived last November in a partially constructed new home at the Visitor Complex.

Soon it was hoisted 30 feet up, tilted 43 degrees and covered in 16,000 square feet of 16-millimeter thick shrink wrap.

Now the 90,000 square foot facility is fully enclosed, and a mezzanine viewing level sweeps over Atlantis' dipped left wing.

Lots of work remains: lighting to install, interactive content to edit, a Hubble Space Telescope replica to assemble, among other tasks.

But the outlines are all in place for the one-of-a-kind display showing Atlantis as if it is flying one of its 33 missions, and the exhibit remains on track to open June 29.

The unwrapping was necessary so crews could begin opening the orbiter's payload bay doors early next month.

They want plenty of time to perform that operation on delicate hardware designed to be opened and closed in microgravity, not on the ground.

Macy has seen lots of high-definition concept images of what the final scene will look like, but none better than Thursday's up-close view of Atlantis, which will soon be shared with the public.

"There's nothing like seeing it in person," he said.

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