On April 12, 2011, the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program’s first flight, NASA announced retirement homes for three historic orbiters and the program’s test vehicle.
It was a hotly sought opportunity for many potential locations; over 20 of them vied for the chance to house a retired space shuttle for all to see. Of course only four could be named the retirement spot for these grand pieces of history.
NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. announced the winners during a ceremony at the Kennedy Center:
• Atlantis – Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida
• Endeavor – California Science Center, Los Angeles
• Discovery – Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia
• Enterprise (test shuttle) – Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, New York
Understandably those who were not picked expressed their disappointment.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was upset because he felt the Johnson Space Center in Houston should have been one of the retirement homes for an orbiter, “but it is clear political favors trumped common sense and fairness in the selection of the final locations for the orbiter fleet,” he said in a statement.
He pointed out that historically Houston “played a critical role throughout the life of the space shuttle.”
“Like many Texans, I am disappointed with NASA’s decision to slight the Johnson Space Center as a permanent home for one of the space shuttle orbiters,” Cornyn said. “There is no question Houston should have been selected as a final home for one of the orbiters — even Administrator Bolden stated as much. Today’s announcement is an affront to the thousands of dedicated men and women at Johnson Space Center, the greater Houston community and the state of Texas, and I’m deeply disappointed with the administration’s misguided decision,” Cornyn said.
The Museum of Flight in Seattle was also hoping to be selected. In fact, they erected a wall of their new space gallery where the shuttle would be housed in earnest anticipation. Prior to the announcement, the museum’s president, Doug King, said museum officials didn’t have any inside information. “I think that confident may be too strong a word. I think that hopeful is probably a better one,” he said.
But once the announcement was made, Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire also said he was disappointed that the NASA didn’t select the Seattle museum for one of the retired shuttles.
“The Museum of Flight put a tremendous amount of effort into landing a retired shuttle in the Pacific Northwest. As the home of modern day air travel and the 747, which has gracefully transported shuttles for the last 30 years, Seattle would have been a perfect fit,” Gregoire said in a statement.
“However, the full fuselage trainer, that every astronaut including Bonnie Dunbar has been trained on, will soon call the Museum of Flight home,” the governor said. “The largest of the trainers, this addition will allow visitors to actually climb aboard the trainer and experience the hands-on training that astronauts get. Visitors will not be allowed in the other shuttles and this trainer is a true win for our dynamic museum.”
Expect to see these shuttles in their respective homes in the relatively near future.