Atlantis is making the last trip of its career, and it’s not even leaving the atmosphere.
The NASA space shuttle is being moved 10 miles from the Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building to its own custom-designed museum built by Delaware North. The shuttle set out at 6:30 this morning and the transfer is expected to take all day.
With a wingspan of 78 feet and tail extending five stories into the air, it would be impossible to get the shuttle into a museum exhibit. Instead, workers will wheel Atlantis into its own hall with one wall missing, cover it with 16,000 square feet of shrink wrap, then finish the fourth wall. This will take some highly skilled driving: Some parts of the shuttle will only clear the walls by six inches.
Atlantis is both a symbol of the competition of the Cold War’s space race and how the U.S. and Russia patched things up. It made its first flight to space in October 1985 on a classified mission for the Defense Department. After the Soviet Union fell, Atlantis started making delivery runs to the Russian space station Mir, starting in 1995. Afterward, it helped service the International Space Station, a place where American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts work together.
This isn’t just a conclusion for Atlantis, it’s an ending for NASA’s space program. Atlantis is the last of three shuttles moved to museum exhibits – the others being Discovery and Endeavor – and Atlantis flew on the space program’s last mission, STS-135, a cargo delivery to the ISS.
Atlantis’ exhibit is set to open next summer.