If NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex serves as the theme park for the space set, the latest attraction is the agency’s own take on “Tomorrowland.”
“Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex” (opens in new tab)opening on June 15, invites the public to not only step out, but fly into the future of space travel. This century multi-user spaceport.
“The Gateway is the ‘new and next’ for NASA and the space industry,” Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, said in an interview with collectSPACE.com. “We’ve really focused on what’s going on now and what’s happening in the future with many of the space partners.”
“But as you travel upwards [into the building]you go to the other part of the attraction, which is ‘Spaceport KSC’, and that’s what we think a spaceport will look like in the future,” Protze said.
Related: Information about NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC)
Part museum and part 4D experience, the 4,600-square-foot multi-level Gateway emerges from the far end of the visitor complex’s iconic Rocket Garden (opens in new tab), placing the vehicles of the past next to those of the near future. More than just a static display, each of the artifacts in Gateway engages guests through interactives.
“It’s very focused on the educational aspect of what’s next for NASA and the space industry through these interactions,” Protze said.
Upon entering Gateway, visitors to the visitor center become “space travelers” and are immediately surrounded by authentic aircraft-flown hardware and full models, which are placed around the floor and suspended from above for 360-degree viewing. Some of the spacecraft are transplants from the center’s previous “NASA Now” gallery, such as the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 (opens in new tab) (EFT-1) capsule that flew in 2014, but many are new.
Visitors encounter a cutaway Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10 engine, the powerhouse for the upper stage of NASA’s Artemis Space Launch System (SLS) lunar rocket; a Lockheed Martin model of a deep space habitat; SpaceX’s first Dragon capsule to visit the International Space Station; and a simulator for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew spacecraft.
Related: Boeing’s Starliner OFT-2 test flight for NASA in stunning photos
Above it hangs a full model of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane, which will make its maiden voyage to the space station in 2023, and running the length of the hall is one of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy side boosters. (opens in new tab) That Helped Place CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster (opens in new tab) in orbit around the sun in 2018.
As a showcase of the present and the near future (opens in new tab)the gallery is designed to move forward as new developments in space travel occur.
“We made it so it could evolve,” Protze said. “As new things become available and we continue to work with the space partners, we can change those exhibits.”
On the second floor, guests can interact with a floor-to-ceiling digital wall to learn about 40 different satellites and space probes. Here they can also visit the HoloTube to manipulate holographic images, video and animations about NASA’s next-generation James Webb Space Telescope.
All this leads to “Spaceport KSC”, where the attraction earns its name. Visitors are transported to an airport of the future, with all the atmospheric chatter and out the window views of active launches and landings one would associate with a busy terminal. Four gates provide access to four destinations: Cosmic Wonders, Daring Explorers, Red Planet, and Uncharted Worlds.
“There are four different gates and you can do four different journeys on a simulated space flight. You load up on a simulated space plane and you get a safety video and then a unique dome experience, a 4D experience, which takes you on a journey as you learn everything about the solar system,” Protze told collectSPACE.
Each “spaceplane” seats 22 people and each journey takes about four and a half minutes, whether you travel to Mars, to an exoplanet or even further afield, to the vistas revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Every journey is different, even down to how you return to Earth.
“Two of the spaceplanes land horizontally on a runway and two land vertically,” Protze said. “There will be multiple spaceships in the future, and they all have different ideas about how they want to launch and land.”
In addition to the exhibits and experiences, Gateway also has a new restaurant. The Space Bowl Bistro offers acai and pick-your-protein bowls with choices ranging from quinoa, rice, vegetables, and noodle bases to proteins, including barbecue short rib, marinated ahi tuna, and jackfruit.
Ribbon-cutting is scheduled for the June 15 opening, which will see NASA officials and many of the companies represented at Gateway. Access to “Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex” (opens in new tab)” is included with regular admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Click here to see more photos (opens in new tab) from inside “Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex” at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
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