Space Center Houston is set to open a new $12 million exhibit in January that features a full-scale replica of the space shuttle Independence and its NASA 747 ferry aircraft.

Upon arrival at Space Center Houston, guests will be greeted with a six-story, 240-ton complex known as Independence Plaza outside of the main museum. Both the shuttle and carrier will feature interior exhibits featuring the flight deck and cockpit of the shuttle, astronaut living quarters mid-deck, history on the development of the shuttle program, and how the carrier aircraft docks with shuttles. Visitors walking through the payload bay will even get to see a recently returned artifact from STS-49, a space satellite rescue mission.

Independence Plaza will be the world's first and only shuttle/carrier replica open to the public when it debuts January 23. The exhibit is the largest project the Smithsonian-affiliated Space Center Houston has taken on since it was founded in 1992. Along with original artifacts and history, the complex will offer educational workshops and problem-solving activities for those interested in science, mathematics, and engineering careers. At the final leg, guests will see a film covering the history of space shuttle program as well as a special tribute to the crew members of the Challenger and Columbia missions.

Visitors to Space Center Houston can experience the monumental exhibit at no extra charge as part of museum general admission. Timed ticketing will ensure that a manageable number of guests can access the shuttle's smaller space at different intervals.

Houston, affectionately as "Space City", also recently launched plans to develop an FAA approved spaceport up the road from Space Center at Ellington Airport.

Since it opened to the public in 1992, Space Center Houston has welcomed more than 17 million visitors from around the world and hosts 800,000 guests annually.