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The past and present of space travel on display

Courtesy NASA

Space travel past and future are both making news this year.

In early February, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority announced plans for a visitor experience to Spaceport America, the sprawling commercial spaceport being built in rural New Mexico.

Meanwhile, plans are being made for the arrival in Washington of the space shuttle Discovery, which will be displayed at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia.

The plans for visitors to Spaceport America, two and a half hours south of Albuquerque, N.M. includes two off-site welcome centers in the towns of Hatch and Truth or Consequences, an on-site visitor center and behind-the-scenes tours of the 18,000-acre spaceport.

“The welcome centers are the ‘mission briefing’ areas where guest become part of the spaceport crew, get updated on current activity, get their credentials and catch a shuttle,” said Bob Allen, chief storytelling officer for IDEAS, the studio that will design the experience.

The visitors center at the spaceport will feature hands-on space technology and artifacts, interactive exhibits and a theater. Shuttle tours of the entire spaceport will depart from the center. The tours will conclude at the massive Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space where visitors will see the world’s first passenger spaceship fleet.

The visitor experience is expected to start next year, about the time Virgin Galactic intends to begin its commercial operation from Spaceport America.

Meanwhile, Albuquerque-based Follow the Sun Tours is offering daily tours of Spaceport America that let visitors see the existing space launch facilities and the new infrastructure under construction, including the airfield, spaceport operations center, fuel storage complex and terminal hangar.

Final plans, which could include a fly-over, are being made for the arrival of Discovery on April 17, weather permitting, at Dulles International Airport, with its transfer to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., two days later.

The shuttle, which is being prepared for its life as a museum exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, will arrive on the back of a modified Boeing 747.

The Discovery will be the first of the flown space shuttles to go on display later this spring. During its 27-year history, Discovery was flown by the first African-American commander and first female commander in NASA history and was also the shuttle on which Sen. John Glenn flew in 1998 at age 77.