They just fade away into a museum. In the case of the soon to end space shuttle program, museums are apparently jumping over themselves trying to, shall we say, ‘land’ the prize.
This was sent to me by a friend; not sure where to find it on line.
Shuttle Diplomacy: Museums Launch Bids for Retiring Space Planes
NASA Offers Orbiters Free, With One Catch: $29 Million in Shipping Costs
By DANIEL MICHAELS
WASHINGTON—The space shuttle fleet’s looming retirement ends an era—and launches a new space race. This one is on the ground, among museums scrambling to land one of the three orbiters.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration says it has received expressions of interest from 21 institutions. The competition has sparked intensive lobbying campaigns, massive fund-raising drives and a sprint for letters of support from astronauts, politicians and the public.
Because NASA has agreed to give the shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian, one of the museums not selected for the newly retired shuttles will get the Enterprise, a shuttle prototype and a museum centerpiece.
NASA is offering the space planes free to qualified institutions as long as they pay for shipping and handling. The catch: those costs add up to $28.8 million per shuttle, including post-flight repairs and strapping the orbiters to a special 747 jumbo jet. The shuttles also must be displayed indoors, which for most museums means building a giant new structure.
“Everybody would love to have one, but very, very few museums can afford to transport and store one,” says Jay Miller, an aviation historian in Fort Worth, Texas.
Aviation museums haven’t scrambled like this since the Concorde retired in 2003. Then, operators Air France and British Airways received dozens of requests to host the supersonic jetliners. But that decision was simpler because there were 13 Concordes, and the airlines were free to choose the planes’ homes.
The current competition, says shuttle expert Dennis Jenkins, “is going to be stupider than Concorde was because the government is involved.” Mr. Jenkins, an aerospace engineer who wrote an exhaustive history of the shuttle program, predicts that after NASA officials decide, “Congress will immediately go into an uproar and un-decide for them.”
Legislators are already weighing in. New York Senator Charles Schumer in March addressed the Senate to stump for Manhattan’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which proposed building a new structure next to the aircraft carrier Intrepid to house a shuttle. “It’s time to convince NASA that the Big Apple has the right stuff to showcase one of these iconic spacecraft,” he enthused.
Ohio’s entire congressional delegation in April wrote NASA to push for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton. Florida Senator Bill Nelson—a former astronaut—has been working on behalf of the Kennedy Space Center.
The shuttles’ exact retirement date remains unclear, and politicians are bickering over what will succeed it. But NASA’s choice of retirement homes could come as soon as this fall, say people familiar with the deliberation.
To get a shuttle, museums must first be able to receive it. That requires a nearby runway where a jumbo jet can land. The shuttle must then be able to move from the tarmac to the museum without dismantling, which eliminates most locations.
France’s Cité de l’Espace outside Toulouse, which boasts the only remaining Soviet-built Mir space station, mulled asking for a shuttle several years ago. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Toulouse Airport posed no problem, says spokesman Olivier Sanguy. But driving the spacecraft eight miles would entail destroying and rebuilding highways, bridges, buildings and power lines. “The cost of travel from the airport would be more than the cost of the shuttle,” says Mr. Sanguy. He notes the issue is moot because NASA says shuttles will stay inside the U.S., with geographic distribution a key criterion.
Competitors must also be able to keep the space planes in climate-controlled conditions and away from the elements. Shuttles were designed to withstand extraordinary things like the near-vacuum of space, micrometeor showers and the furnace of re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. Rain, on the other hand, is a problem. “They leak like a sieve,” says Mr. Jenkins.
The only museum currently ready for an orbiter is the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, abutting Dulles International Airport, already houses Enterprise, a full-size prototype shuttle that NASA used to test the reusable space plane’s aerodynamics in the 1970s. But most of its insides were cannibalized over the years—and it never went into space.
“It’s not a real shuttle, but it’s unique,” said museum spokesman Frank McNally as he drove a golf cart beneath it on a recent afternoon. “It’s the only one you can see.”
NASA has said it will give the oldest surviving shuttle, Discovery, to the Smithsonian, which is the national repository of space history. NASA will select homes for the other shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavour. Two additional shuttles, Challenger and Columbia, were destroyed in fatal accidents. The Smithsonian will then offer Enterprise to a loser. “We realize we can’t be selfish and keep both,” says Smithsonian shuttle curator Valerie Neal.
Boosters of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton say they’ve got a strong case for Atlantis, which handled many missions for the Defense Department. The Pentagon helped design the shuttles, supplied many astronauts, and the Air Force even “saved the shuttle program in lean budget years during its development,” says museum spokesman Rob Bardua.
Seattle’s Museum of Flight has an edge thanks to its West Coast location, say handicappers. The museum also has close links to Boeing Co., which bought part of the company that built the shuttles in California, Rockwell International. The museum’s campaign is being led by former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar.
New Yorkers say Intrepid is ideal to fulfill NASA’s goal of giving shuttles maximum exposure, thanks to the city’s status as a tourist mecca and media capital. Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, also has space history because it retrieved early astronauts on splashdown, says Executive Director Susan Marenoff. “It’s a no-brainer,” she says.
Bill Moore, chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex, argues that his engineers can design the coolest exhibit. After all, each of the 132 shuttle missions lifted off from the center. “A shuttle’s not something that should be displayed on three wheels on concrete,” he says, suggesting the center would show its shuttle as it operates in space.
Ms. Neal at the Smithsonian says a key issue will be keeping the shuttles as intact as possible “for reference 100 years from now.” She has asked NASA to keep Discovery’s toilets and galleys installed, even though they won’t be visible to the public.
“Who knows,” muses Ms. Neal. “Maybe one day we’ll have some extraterrestrials come here to look at our space history.”