Kennedy Space Center unveils space shuttle Atlantis exhibit

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BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is ready to unveil its latest attraction in Brevard County.

The $100 million space shuttle Atlantis exhibit is devoted to NASA's 30-year shuttle program, and it opens to the public Saturday.

It is the only shuttle exhibit that will nearly put visitors within arm's reach of the Atlantis shuttle.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden was on hand Friday for the events surrounding the Atlantis exhibit and an announcement about the future of the Kennedy Space Center.

The space shuttle Atlantis was the last shuttle NASA sent into space. It's the newest attraction at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Astronaut James "J.R." Reilly flew two missions aboard Atlantis.

"It took me right back to being in space aboard the Atlantis, doing my first space walk and all that goes with it," Reilly said.

In addition to Atlantis, there are more than 60 interactive exhibits on-site. Visitors can try a spacewalk.

"It's time for NASA to push out beyond the frontiers of our knowledge and that's what we hope that next generation of explorers will do," Reilly said.

Even as the Kennedy Space Center and NASA honored its past, there was a lot of talk about the future of manned spaceflight and the role the region will play in it.

"Today we're pleased to announce that we're entering into negotiations with Space Florida to take over operation of the Kennedy shuttle landing facility for a combined airport and spaceport," said Bolden, the NASA official.

Companies like California-based XCOR Aerospace are ready to take flight.

"We hope to be flying out of the shuttle landing facility by 2015. We're currently building the first vehicle," said Andrew Nelson, chief operating officer for XCOR Aerospace.

The changes could create new jobs for the space coast.

"We have an extremely bright future, we're making it happen," said Robert Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is a 43-foot-long replica of the Hubble Space Telescope.