Friday, June 08, 2007

Shuttle Launch ride simulates launch at 17,500 mph

Crew_cabinImagine being in a dragster, peeling out from zero to 100 in three seconds, then keeping your foot to the floor for a full six minutes until you reach 17,500 mph.

On Friday, the Kennedy Space Center will open the Shuttle Launch Experience, an amusement-ride-cum-astronaut-flight-simulator designed to mimic the 17,500-mph liftoff of a NASA shuttle orbiter.

The 44,000-square-foot attraction isn't just a ride; it's a flight simulator on par with what astronauts in training experience, says Bob Rogers, CEO of BRC Imagination Arts, which built it.

"This isn't an imaginary flight," says Rogers. "This is real."

The $60 million project employs seat rumblers and shakers that rattle riders through the turbulent main engine start, the firing of the solid rocket boosters and then their separation.

Air bags in each seat sink and rise to capture the sensation of extreme acceleration. The shuttle's windshield, an 84-inch high-def screen, is enveloped in fire when the external tanks separate.

Inside the capsule, riders are subject to an onslaught of 13-channel sound, from the roar of the engines to the commander barking instructions. Low-frequency sound vibrates the riders' chests, evoking the feeling of being unable to breathe.

To get the sensations, sights and sounds absolutely accurate, creators spent three years interviewing more than two dozen shuttle astronauts, who weighed in on everything from the whitish-yellow debris that spatters across the shuttle's windshield when the rocket boosters separate to the creaking of the cabin and other ambient sounds astronauts hear during a launch.

According to Rogers, some astronauts who have experienced the exhibit have reported it to be more realistic than some of NASA's and the military's own training simulators.

It is the first in a series of new exhibits opening at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex during the next decade.

"We take the technology and pizazz of theme parks, Broadway and Hollywood and put those things in the framework of education," says Rogers.


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