CAPE CANAVERAL— An upcoming addition to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will have a forward-looking focus that’s flexible as space exploration evolves.
Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex is set to debut March 21. It will include futuristic spaceflight simulations and relics but will be able to deal with developments, Therrin Protze, the attraction’s chief operation officer, said during a hard-hat walk-through of the 55,000-square-foot building this week.
“It’s designed to be evolving; it’s not a static thematic attraction,” he said.
In place already and running the length of the exhibit space is a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster that supported two missions, including the one that featured CEO Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster as payload.
“We kept it the way it came down. So it’s all burnt up,” Protze said. “It looks phenomenal. It looks absolutely beautiful.”
The booster literally will loom over other Gateway elements, including a space-flown Orion crew vehicle, a Lockheed Martin moon habitat concept, Boeing CST-100 Starliner crew vehicle and more. The lineup and arrangement will be fluid, thanks in part to an air-bearing floor design that makes movement simpler.
“A new article or a mock-up or something about the new and next in space will always be in there,” Protze said.
One exterior wall is also a player.
“It can come off and you can move, technically, a booster out and a booster in as the commercial space and NASA story expands,” he said.
On Gateway’s upper level, guests will encounter Spacesport KSC, which the attraction touts as “the first and only airport of the future.” A two-story, 4D flying theater will transport guests through their choices of four different space journeys and be presented with a space-travel theme. One destination is Mars, and there’s another called “Daring Explorers.”
“We like to call it a ‘docu-ride,’” Protze said. “They’re learning while they’re being immersed and experience something that is very unique.”
The roof of the Gateway building, adjacent to the Rocket Garden and the Planet Play area that debuted this year, will be used for launch and landing viewing events and be the home of the Planewave CDK20 telescope.
“The mission here is of education and keeping people informed of our history,” said Bruce Melnick, an astronaut who works with the visitor complex and who flew on Space Shuttle Discovery and the first flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
“The other part of that ongoing mission is to go ahead and look to the future,” he said. “This is the gateway to the future. And this is about as close as you can get. It’s to bring space down to Earth for the earthlings.”
Hands-on experiences at Gateway will include a projection wall featuring the location and importance of satellites and something called a HoloMap.
“Basically, it’s a giant hologram of Kennedy Space Center, as it started off from NACA [the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics],” Protze said. “They basically will be able to move the timeline and see how much has grown since NACA, so they’ll understand how many pads are in existence, the new pads, the old pads — basically, the evolution of KSC.”
The Gateway exhibit has been in the works since 2017 and stayed in development during the pandemic.
“No matter what, we were committed to finishing this project,” Protze said. “It’s ready to go. We will be ready by March.”