Your kids won’t have any aliens to shoot when they board Space Shuttle Experience at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. But it will will be a family vacation to remember.
The new Space Shuttle Experience at the Kennedy Center, just east of Orlando, Fla., (where the kids can spend plenty of time on rides that allow them to shoot aliens), offers a realistic simulation of the astronaut’s experience when they board the shuttle and head out of this world.
The journey begins as visitors enter the Shuttle Launch Simulation Facility, a sleek building architecturally inspired by Space Shuttle facilities at Kennedy Space Center. Astronaut describe their most exhilarating moments culminating in a description of the thrilling sensations of launch.
The Simulation Briefing is a technical explanation of the intricate steps of a space shuttle launch and the sensations of “3…2…1…lift-off.” Visitors enter the heart of shuttle operations via a combination of large projection screens and plasma screens that move up and down on robotic arms. Dramatic atmospheric, sound and lighting effects including floor “rumblers” and fog dramatize the moments before launch. Visitors are taken step-by-step through shuttle preparation and the launch sequence.
Go for Launch
Now, visitors are ready to experience their personal launch from inside the shuttle. Guests enter the crew module in the shuttle’s cargo bay and strap in for launch. Multiple video screens reveal different views of the mission, advanced audio effects, and special effects seating – with rumblers and a “kicker” that jolts the shuttle at key points along the mission. The result: an authentic, high-fidelity launch simulation.
The countdown begins. “In 10, nine, eight, seven…Go for engine start.” Vibrations and a blaring roar jolt the cabin as passengers feel the main engines firing up. “We have main engine start…two, one…” The cabin shakes as the twin Solid Rocket Boosters ignite. The cabin leans backward as vibration generators engage, causing crew members to sink into their seats.
“We have booster ignition and liftoff of the shuttle.” Visitors feel the vibrations as the shuttle lifts off and clears the launch pad. The sensations of launch continue as they experience Max Q—the zone where enormous forces squeeze the shuttle, solid rocket booster separation, main engine cut-off and the External Tank separation.
As the shuttle orbiter enters outer space, the cargo bay doors above open to reveal a breathtaking view of the Earth. Seen in all its beauty and fragility, visitors begin to understand why looking back at our home planet from space is one of the most profound experiences in the life of any astronaut. Following this experience, visitors will never view a space shuttle launch in quite the same way.
Journey Back to Earth
Then passengers unbuckle their seat belts and make their way back to the real world. A spiral ramp guides them on a symbolic journey from the edge of space back down to life on Earth. A fiber optic star field covers the walls and ceiling, immersing visitors in the grandeur of the cosmos. In the center below the ramp is a large, projected image of our home planet, as it appears to astronauts orbiting in space. Along the way are Shuttle mission plaques – one for each of the more than 100 missions that have launched from Kennedy Space Center.
When guests arrive back to Earth, they will exit through a post-show tunnel, featuring graphics detailing the multitude of accomplishments of each Space Shuttle orbiter. And, because no family vacation is ever complete with a stop in the gift shop, the next step is one astronauts are not required to take after they finish their shuttle experiences: a trip through the retail shop which offers a chance to buy shuttle-themed mementos.
As visitors depart the Shuttle Launch Simulation Facility, they enter Shuttle Plaza featuring “Explorer,” a full-size orbiter replica, as well as full-size, genuine solid rocket boosters and an external tank, representing all three components of a Space Shuttle.
Caution: The ride is not recommended for pregnant women.