Kennedy Space Center’s new Gateway attraction showcases space travel

The newest attraction at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex aims to educate visitors about the history of the space program with modern visuals and also to spur the imagination about future out-of-this world travel in an immersive way. Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex opens to the public June 15.

Gateway displays include a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster and Sierra Space Dream Chaser model dangling from the ceiling as well as on-ground equipment — some flight-flown, some full-scale models — such as the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 Capsule and SpaceX Cargo Dragon COTS-2. Multiple touch screens enable visitors to scroll through options that prompt projection mapping onto units.

For instance, the effect compares an Apollo capsule with a projection onto the present-day Orion capsule.

“Instead of just having a plaque and something to read, we use transparent OLED so that guests can actually interact, play a video,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the visitor complex during a walk-through for members of the media.

“If they want to interact with the capsule, they can actually touch the screen and projection mapping forms on that capsule so they can learn about not only what’s on the screen, but it’s actually projecting on the capsule, so truly becoming connected with the overall experience,” he said.

The exhibit features commercial spacecraft and products from several manufacturers and partners.

“We knocked on every door and worked with the space companies,” Protze said. “We worked with those that have flown, wondering if we could tell their story in Gateway. When we have the ability to do that, we definitely take advantage of it.

“If they haven’t quite flown yet, then we did a mock-up and work with those space companies as well to get as close as what can be, like the Dream Chaser right here,” he said.

The building is designed to be “forever evolving” and is updatable with progress.

“Hopefully … a real Dream Chaser will be hanging up in that ceiling instead of a mock-up,” Protze said. “But it gives you a preview of what’s coming. And that’s what’s exciting for the guests.”

On the upper level of the 50,000-square-foot is Spaceport KSC, which has four on-screen adventures that tease to future space travel. They’re named “Cosmic Wonders,” “Daring Explorers,” “Red Planet” and “Uncharted Worlds.”

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Visitors are buckled into a multitiered simulator that presents giant-screen stories plus special effects such as rumbling seats and blowing wind. Theme park fans will compare it with attractions such as Soarin’ at Epcot or Avatar Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

“You really feel like you’re flying through space as you’re being narrated about why space exploration is so important for humans,” Protze said.

All Gateway experiences are included in regular admission to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex after its grand opening next month.

Other features on Gateway’s entry level include a full-scale model of Sierra Space Dream Chaser, Boeing Starliner Simulator model, Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 upper-stage rocket engine, a scale model of NASA Space Launch System, Lockheed Martin Space Habitat full-scale mock-up and a Boeing spacesuit display, that allows users to grab floating objects with virtual space gloves.

Young people may find occupation inspiration inside Gateway, said Barry Bohnsack, who works for Lockheed Martin as Artemis 3 crew module production planner.

“When they walk in the door, they’re going to come into this building, and they’re gonna learn about what the future of spaceflight is going to be like,” he said.

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