Flying into space is an adventure only a select few will ever experience. But the U.S. space agency, NASA, is now offering visitors to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida the excitement of spaceflight without ever leaving the ground. For producer Rohit Kulkarni, VOA's Jim Bertel has more on NASA's new ride: the Shuttle Launch Experience.
For the first time, ordinary people can experience the sensations of soaring into space on board the Shuttle Launch Experience.
This 4,000 square meter attraction opened in May and has attracted thrill-seekers from all over the world.
"It was actually very funny and scary at the same time," said Lidia Nicole Arnold, a student.
But this is no ordinary amusement park ride. Shuttle astronauts and ride engineers spent three years designing the attraction to ensure that it accurately simulates the reality of a space shuttle launch, within the limitations of Earth's gravity.
One of the designers is Richard Searfoss, an astronaut who has traveled on three space missions.
"I've been involved with the team putting the shuttle launch experience together for a couple years now,” says Searfoss. “It started out initially because I had the calibrated backside to come hop on board the mock-ups and work with the engineers as they changed and tweaked and adjusted things. 'Okay this feels right. This doesn't feel right. Tweak it and adjust it'."
As the seat belt harnesses click into place, the passengers are no longer ordinary civilians; they are temporarily NASA astronauts. These lucky cadets are able to experience the thrill of a shuttle launch without years of astronaut training. This $60 million attraction provides riders with the closest thing to actually flying on a shuttle.
"Before you know it, you get the main engine cut off where we tilt the cabin forward quite rapidly, of course, you're enclosed in it,” says Seafoss. “You can't really see it happening. But your inner ear senses something and you feel initially like you're tumbling up out of your seat, up against the straps. And you feel like, 'Wow, I really am going to weightlessness.' That sensation lasts for about a second or so. And it is a really powerful one and it is exactly like the real thing."
As the mission comes to a close and the passengers return to Earth, they have a better idea of what blasting into space is like.
"Shuttle Launch Experience is powerful because it's a great vehicle for people who have really had the experience of going to space to share in a direct sort of way what their experiences are about."
In the past 25 years, NASA has flown over a hundred shuttle launches. The Shuttle Launch Experience is its first attempt to offer ordinary people the chance to experience lifting off into space.