I learned about NASA’s Gateway Program when I lived near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in 2017. I used to drive by it almost daily on my way to work at Ad Astra Rocket Company, an R&D spaceflight company dedicated to advancing in-space electric plasma propulsion. The NASA Gateway program integrates numerous commercial and international partners such as the European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The program aims to build a small space station orbiting the Moon to meet long-term human space exploration needs, support the Artemis missions, and support industry commercialization.
This year, living in Florida, I thought I’d visit the new exhibit “Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex” at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, Florida. It’s a brand new exhibit unveiled this past May. I live about 15 mins away, so I wanted to report on it and give you my thoughts and impressions.
The Gateway exhibit focuses on the industry’s commercialization with displays from the industry heavyweights such as SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and United Launch Alliance. I saw various mockups of space habitats, flight capsules, multi-use logistics modules, and interactive flight simulations. It was, of course, exhilarating to have the chance to fill in the gaps of space knowledge, history, and trivia while getting up close to the proposed equipment. I also closely examined post-flight hardware from SpaceX, including the historic Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster B1021 and Crew Dragon COTS-2 Capsule, which are both on display. B1021 is the first reusable booster to be reflown and the first to land on the autonomous spaceport drone ship named “Of Course I Still Love You.” COTS-2 was the second spaceflight test of the uncrewed Crew Dragon capsule, the first commercial spacecraft to dock at the International Space Station. It’s incredibly visceral to closely observe the effects of orbital re-entry.