Under brilliant blue Florida skies, Atlantis, the last of NASA’s shuttle orbiters to leave the Kennedy Space Center nest, made its way Friday to the nearby Kennedy Visitor Center Complex. There, it will star in an inspirational $100 million public exhibit scheduled to open in July.
Unlike Endeavour, Discovery and Enterprise, which made their way to museums in Los Angeles; Dulles,Va.; and New York City earlier this year by air, Atlantis traveled over the roads at Kennedy to its new display home near Titusville, Fla.
The near 10 mile route was lined by hundreds of students, shuttle workers and space fans. There were marching bands and ceremonies as Atlantis, which flew 33 missions between 1985 and 2011 with 156 astronauts and a wide range of payloads in support of science, national security, diplomacy and assembly of the International Space Station, embarked on the day long journey.
“Those of us who flew Atlantis will never forget the experience,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former shuttle commander, told the gathering. “Now, we are on to greater things. Our best days are ahead of us, with the shuttle as our tail wind.”
NASA retired its shuttle fleet in July 2011, following 135 missions.
“Atlantis now takes on a mission of inspiration,” said Chris Ferguson, who commanded Atlantis on the shuttle fleet’s final flight. “It’s not the end.”