In December of 2008, I mentioned with no small amount of amusement that NASA was soliciting bids for retired Space Shuttles. *Sigh* back then it seemed like Shuttle retirement was still "a long way off." Now, it may be only 5 months before these grand dames of the heavens start their new lives as tourism novelties.
As predicted, Houston made a bid to acquire a Shuttle for Rocket Park at Johnson Space Center, and the Houston Chronicle now reports that there are 21 other bids, with some bearing political baggage.
The Austin Planetarium made what may turn out to be an overly-ambitious attempt, and it seems unlikely that two will end up in Texas. Austin and Houston may have to duke it out, but what about California, Florida or Ohio?
Some expected President Obama to name sites during discussions of NASA's new direction and budget re-allocations, but a few extra shuttle missions may still be in the cards, so no major announcement was forthcoming. At the moment, the only "sure thing" is that the first of the fleet, Shuttle Discovery, will be sent to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
A few weeks ago on This Week In Space, Miles O'Brien reported that Shuttle Enterprise (the one currently at the Smithsonian) had been inspected by engineers to determine if she was flight-worthy, since she would need a new home once displaced by Discovery's arrival.
Enterprise never made it to low earth orbit, of course, as she was designed only to test orbiter characteristics, but she holds a special place in the hearts of many, being the official "First Space Shuttle." I googled madly about, trying to find where Enterprise was headed, but that also seems to be up in the air. In the past, the Smithsonian took ownership of ALL spacecraft, and then merely "loaned out" to other institutions, so this sort of rivalry between cities and congressional representatives is unprecedented. Let's hope it doesn't get ugly!
Hey! Maybe we should just leave them on the runway after the last voyage, and whomever thinks they can pilot one to their museum, have at it!
Where to, Jeeves?
NASA has now officially reduced the original price of $42 million (estimated in December 2008) to $28 million. Any chosen facilities, however, must pay for ferrying the orbiters atop NASA's modified Boeing 747 "Shuttle Carrier" aircraft from Florida's Kennedy Space Center to their destinations.
Looking forward to the final announcement in July...