Friday, July 8, 2011

Shuttle Politics: Houston v. NYC

NASA's Final Space Shuttle Mission: STS-135 is now history as the shuttle Atlantis lifted off July 8 on the final flight of the shuttle program for a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. NASA's official video of the final launch is available on its website at this link.

Earlier this year, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the locations where the four shuttle orbiters will be displayed permanently at the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program. Among the locations was the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York designated as the new home of the Shuttle Enterprise. In 1985, the Enterprise was ferried from the Kennedy Space Center to Washington, DC and became the property of the Smithsonian Institution. The Enterprise was built as a test vehicle and was not equipped for space flight. For background on the Enterprise, see NASA's website.

After NASA’s announcement, officials from Texas, home to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, questioned in a letter to NASA whether politics played a role in the decision. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced HR 1536 “To provide for the disposition of the retiring Space Shuttles.” The legislation would give the Johnson Space Center Shuttle Endeavour while the California Science Center, which was to get Endeavour, would instead get the Enterprise; the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Space Center would keep Discovery and Atlantis, respectively. The bill, now before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, faces an uphill battle. Language in §603 of the NASA authorization bill (Pub. L. 111–267) on the dispostion of the space orbiters improves New York’s chances, since it requests that NASA give preference to locations “with an historical relationship with either the launch, flight operations, or processing of the Space Shuttle orbiters or the retrieval of NASA manned space vehicles, or significant contributions to human space flight”. The Intrepid was involved in the recovery of Mercury-Atlas 7 and Gemini 3.

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