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The Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA

Issue 77 February / March 2014 : Retail: Museum

Architects: PGAV Destinations Lighting Design: Fisher Marantz Stone

What do you do when you are offered a once in a lifetime project? Grab it with both hands, of course. Paula Martinez-Nobles, Fisher Marantz Stone’s Project Manager, explains the white knuckle ride that was the Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit project.

“Our longtime client, Emily Howard of PGAV, called me one afternoon offering to tell me about a one-of-a-kind project if I signed a pretty serious nondisclosure agreement,” recalls Chrles Stone, President of Fisher Marantz Stone. “We did - and for the next two years there was a 1:72 scale model of a space shuttle hidden under a square of black velvet in our studio.”

One might argue that the means and methods used in our lighting design and the architects’ design were secrets or innovative. However, as the project developed, we came to understand that the real secret was simply the theatrical and technical artifice of revealing the spacecraft to visitors.

Gathered around a large foam core model of the project with the designers from PGAV, Jim Moorkamp (the late, great president of PGAV) showed us how the shuttle would be rotated in such a way that it would appear to be flying, a view that only a handful of astronauts would have had the chance to see. This was the “Aha!” moment - and our most important secret.

The concept for the Atlantis Exhibit experience was to educate and inspire the next generation of space exploration. In order to do that, the team had an obligation to have Atlantis look as good as she did in space; mid-flight, tipped 43.21 degrees-port side, and radiant against the darkness of space.

We set out to feature her figure across nearly 360 degree views from surrounding ramps and mezzanines. Guests can walk below her, as close as seven feet from her wing, and stand above her looking down into the open payload bay and docking station. We had to consider every vantage point, every curve, and each of the materials that covered the body of the shuttle. The additional 60+ exhibits that accompany Atlantis on the floor provide an equally important picture of the 30 year story of the Space Shuttle program and required equal attention.

A DMX network and basic pipe system across six catwalks above the shuttle were designed to provide physical and show control flexibility for the facility. The exhibit fixtures on the catwalks – all LED – were positioned asymmetrically across the catwalk grid to favour the rotation of the shuttle’s port side and nose. The advisory team from DNC and NASA wanted the lighting to embody the latest technical advances; translation: as much LED as possible. We tested fixtures from all corners of the manufacturing universe to find the right mix of durability, form factor, and performance. Finding LED theatrical fixtures that met the more architectural needs of long-term robustness was one of the technical challenges of the project. Modified dynamic white, 140 watt and 50 watt LED spotlights (Lumenpulse Lumenbeam Extra Large and Large) in 40, 20, 10 and 6 degree distributions were built to provide the overall lighting for the shuttle and supplementary exhibits on the ground and third level floors.

Twelve custom colour, blue and amber 140W fixtures (again, Lumenpulse Lumenbeam Extra Large) enhanced the dramatic effect known as the ‘Orbiter Reveal’ – when the guests see Atlantis for the first time – in person. At this moment you are in the Pre-Show theatre, you don’t know she is right behind the projection screen, at eyelevel. A theatrical lap dissolve transitions you out of the show, and suddenly she appears from behind the scrim. A 20ft tall x 100ft long LED screen behind the shuttle displays imagery of the ‘Indigo Arc’ – the instance in outer space when the sun appears to rise and illuminates the Earth’s atmosphere, rendering an indigo arc followed by a burst of amber before the sun fully appears. The colour changing LED fixtures crossfade from a deep blue to an amber burst, back to white within a three minute cue.

The shuttle’s belly is a visual journal of her past missions. The reusable insulation tiles, which are drastically different in shades of black and light gray, burn marks from the heat endured during re-entry, create a pattern similar to fish scales on the Orbiter’s belly. A tight array of 50 x 25 watt, 6 degree narrow beam spotlights (9” o.c.) graze the belly of Atlantis highlighting the re-entry scars.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit opened in July of 2013, and it truly was a project for the ages. The Space Shuttle program accomplished much in its 30 years. To capture it all in a 90,000 square foot facility is impossible; however this exhibit, and the experience that PGAV takes you through, is as close as anyone can come here on Earth. Where else can you stand nose to nose with an Orbiter in mid-flight?


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