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After Its Final Landing, Space Shuttle Atlantis Enters Retirement

NASA, Glenn Benson

Space shuttle Atlantis made its final landing last year, but it has one journey left: This month, it will roll 5 miles to the Kennedy Center’s visitor complex. Its road to retirement hasn’t been a short one.

1. Make it safe

Historically, hazardous fluids and gases aboard shuttles are used on multiple missions. Since the Atlantis is the last of the program’s fleet, ammonia, Freon, fuel, and oxidizer were disposed of. Parts that contained chemicals were sent out to a facility to be cleaned and deserviced.

2. Strip it for parts

NASA, ever the frugal organization, stripped the Atlantis of any parts that could be used on the Space Launch System, the agency’s heavy-lift rocket being designed for deep-space exploration in 2017. Bye-bye, engines and propulsion systems.

3. Bring on the fakes

After the shuttle was plundered, replica parts were installed. The crew module was recon­figured for easy public viewing, as visitors are far more interested in seeing where astronauts cook and relieve themselves than in the actual science of the shuttle.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.