Florida's role in the space program earned our state a very distinguished honor. Florida is one of just four sites chosen to permanently display a space shuttle.
For the past year, NASA has been preparing Atlantis for her new home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. They're almost ready to move the spacecraft.
Atlantis was the last to fly. It traveled nearly 126 million miles before it closed NASA's shuttle program.
"It's sad, but I'm glad it's staying here in Florida," said technician David Bakehorn.
The shuttle looks different now, tucked inside Bay 2 of NASA's Orbiter Processing Facility. It's stripped down and covered by scaffolding.
"We're taking good care of it," Bakehorn said.
"We kept things as they were. Any damage to the tile that you see happened either during ascent, on orbit, or during return. So on the outside, it looks like it just landed from a previous mission," said shuttle flow director Stephanie Stilson.
Everything will be saved and preserved, not just for history, but for the legacy of the space shuttle program. It will live on for future generations, thanks in no small part to Atlantis.
"Not many people get the opportunity that you have to come in here and see these vehicles up close," Stilson said.
The cockpit is where the gravity sets in. It's more than the power of the commander's chair and the view inside the payload bay.
"There are so many emotions coming up, some will actually just stand here and cry. It is sad to see these vehicles go," said technician David Chodkowsi.
The Earth-bound men and women who maintained these shuttles feel their connection to history. Hundreds have even signed their names on the wall leading in to the hatch.
"She's been quite a bird," said Michael Williams.
Atlantis will roll out to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex in November. The Atlantis exhibit will open to the public next year.
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