NASA selects museums to display space shuttles

CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL--Ending months of suspense, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Tuesday announced the winners of a national competition to display the agency's three space shuttles after the fleet is retired and decommissioned later this year, choosing sites in Florida, California and, as expected, the Washington, D.C., area.

Speaking on the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight on April 12, 1981, Bolden said the shuttle Discovery, NASA's senior orbiter, will be displayed near Washington at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

An artist's concept of the shuttle Atlantis on display at the Kennedy Space Center. (Photo: Delaware North)

The shuttle Atlantis will remain at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a final flight in late June while the Endeavour, awaiting launch April 29 on a space station resupply mission, will be displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

"First, here at the Kennedy Space Center where every shuttle mission and so many other historic human space flights have originated, we'll showcase my old friend, Atlantis," Bolden said, standing on a podium in front of Atlantis' open processing hangar. "Not only will the workers who sent it into space so many times have a chance to still see it, the millions of visitors who come here every year to learn more about space and to be a part of the excitement of exploration will be able to see what is still a great rarity, an actual flown space vehicle.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announces where the agency's shuttles will be displayed. The shuttle Atlantis, which will remain at the Kennedy Space Center, is visible in the background. (Photo: NASA TV)
"The California Science Center in Los Angeles, only a few miles from the site of the old Rockwell (International) plant where the shuttle was developed and from where its construction was managed, will be the new home for the shuttle on the launch pad, preparing for its final mission, Endeavour.

"The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, will get Discovery, our most traveled orbiter. And New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum ... will get Enterprise, our prototype orbiter that tested the aerodynamics of the craft before it flew into space."

Other shuttle artifacts will be displayed at museums across the country.

Shuttle simulators will be displayed at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum of McMinnville, Ore., and Texas A&M's Aerospace Engineering Department.

The Museum of Flight in Seattle, which bid for one of the space shuttles, will receive a full fuselage shuttle trainer and the National Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, another unsuccessful applicant, will display a crew compartment trainer and nose cap assembly.

Flight deck commander and pilot seats will be displayed at the Johnson Space Center in Houston while orbital maneuvering system rocket engines will be sent to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., the National Air and Space Museum in Washington and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.

In addition, heat shield tiles will be offered to interested schools and universities.

An artist's concept of the prototype shuttle Endeavour on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. (Photo: Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum)
"We want to thank all of the locations that expressed an interest in one of these national treasures," Bolden said in a statement. "This was a very difficult decision, but one that was made with the American public in mind. In the end, these choices provide the greatest number of people with the best opportunity to share in the history and accomplishments of NASA's remarkable space shuttle program. These facilities we've chosen have a noteworthy legacy of preserving space artifacts and providing outstanding access to U.S. and international visitors."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., praised the decision to display Atlantis in Florida, saying "it's only fitting that Kennedy Space Center is the final home of one of these great spaceships, Atlantis," he said. "We all hope that generations of visitors and generations of Americans will enjoy and learn by understanding this magnificent program, America's space exploration program."

But the decision was a major disappointment to supporters of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, home of the shuttle mission control center and astronaut training facilities, and the other unsuccessful applicants.

In a post-announcement teleconference, a reporter asked "What do you say to Houston? Obviously we have the history, we're the fourth largest city in the nation, we have a great international airport, we have a pretty diverse community. I don't know where we failed."

"Houston did not in any way, shape or form, fail," said Olga Dominguez, NASA's assistant associate administrator for strategic infrastructure. "It has always been a critical piece of NASA's shuttle and space program. We just did not have enough to go around."

Another reporter pointed out that 61 percent of the nation's population lives within a one-day drive of the Wright-Patterson museum "and what they offer is totally open and free to the public, which some of these other places aren't."

Dominguez said, "again, part of what we did for our criteria was to collect the best value for the American public as far as educational and outreach, as well as the size of domestic population and the other factors we discussed. I wish we had enough orbiters to send to every (organization) who applied and was qualified. But we only have three."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, reportedly wants an investigation by the General Accountability Office.

"NASA ignored the intent of Congress and the interests of taxpayers," he said, according to The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. "NASA was directed to consider regional diversity when determining shuttle locations. Unfortunately, it looks like regional diversity amounts to which coast you are on, or which exit you use on I-95. Even more insulting to taxpayers is that having paid to build the shuttles, they will now be charged to see them at some sites."

But Wright-Patterson Air Force Base museum director Jack Hudson took the decision in stride, telling the Middletown Journal "we respect the decision and wish the winners the best."

In a taped message from orbit, space station flight engineer Catherine "Cady" Coleman, told the shuttle work force "we will miss the capabilities and the beauty of the space shuttle. It has been a national icon for innovation and exploration for 30 years. But its legacy and yours lives on with the work we do here on the ISS. The retirement of the shuttle fleet should not be seen as an end. It represents the next step in extending humanity's reach farther into space."