Congress, NASA

Lobbying for shuttles

In less than a month, on April 12, NASA administrator Charles Bolden is scheduled to announce which sites will receive the agency’s three shuttle orbiters—Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour—when the fleet is retired later this year. That means the sites seeking the orbiters are ramping up for one final lobbying push, and often calling on their Congressional delegations to twist (or, at least, try to twist) the arm of Bolden to win one of the orbiters.

Florida: On Wednesday, Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) called on NASA to give one of the orbiters to the Kennedy Space Center, citing the spaceport’s three-decade history of launching the shuttles. “The Space Shuttle is as much a part of Florida as sunshine and beaches,” she writes in a letter to Bolden. “I urge you to consider the important role the people of Florida have played in this era of exploration and adventure, and that you choose to house one of the Shuttles at the KSC complex.”

Houston: While conventional wisdom puts Florida as one of the frontrunners for a shuttle, people in Houston are more nervous, fearing they may lose out to another site in the middle of the country, such as the Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio. Earlier this week 18 members of the Texas Congressional delegation, including Houston area members as well as others such as Ralph Hall (R) and Joe Barton (R), sent a letter to President Obama asking that NASA award Houston an orbiter, claiming that failing to do so “would forever diminish the service rendered by the City of Houston and create a blemish on its significance to the legacy of NASA as it closes this chapter in its history.” Leading the effort is Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), who notes in a release accompanying the letter that she is “a zealous advocate for NASA” and was spurred into action after hearing that Houston “had fallen to the bottom of a list of cities being considered ” for a shuttle.

That appears to be a reference to a Houston Chronicle article about Houston’s prospects, noting that the Air Force budget request for FY2012 includes $14 million for the Air Force museum to prepare to receive a shuttle orbiter. The newspaper followed that report up with an editorial calling for the city to receive a shuttle, asking Bolden “to look beyond the politics of placement and do the right thing”. (The same editorial also claims that “Congress has passed legislation exempting the Smithsonian from preparation charges”; that appears to be incorrect, as that provision was in a House appropriations bill it passed last December but was not approved by the Senate.)

Houston is relying on more than just positive history to win an orbiter: Local TV station KTRK reported that Bolden met Wednesday with families of astronauts lost in the Challenger and Columbia accidents, who lobbied to get Houston an orbiter. Bolden didn’t comment on the meeting in an interview with the station, but said that he thought there were “six to ten places” that he thought qualified for an orbiter, not disclosing what those sites were.

Chicago: That city’s outsider bid for an orbiter got support last week in a letter to Bolden by the state’s two senators, Richard Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R). With ties to the shuttle program tenuous, the senators played up the city’s ability to secure funding for major projects (as Chicago’s bid calls for a new building for Adler Planetarium on the city’s lakefront, as well as Adler’s expertise in education and public outreach. While the senators were polite, the Chicago Sun-Times was a bit more blunt in an editorial this week: “Not to be unkind, but for NASA to give the shuttle to any other Midwestern city would be a comparative act of charity.”

New York: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is doing more than just write letters: he invited Bolden to tour the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, the New York City museum vying for an orbiter. “It’s time for the Intrepid to do one last recovery mission by permanently hosting a retired shuttle,” Schumer wrote. (Bolden declined the invitation, the New York Daily News reported, as a spokesman explained that Bolden had already visited the museum “on numerous occasions”.)

As this lobbying continues for a couple more weeks, it’s interesting that the space-related topic that generates the most interest among members of Congress, particularly those who ordinarily pay little attention to space issues, has nothing to do with NASA’s future in space but instead is about disposing of its past.

13 comments to Lobbying for shuttles

  • Overlooked in this folderol is Enterprise, which is currently at the Udvar-Hazy Center. If one orbiter goes to the National Air and Space Museum as planned, then Enterprise goes elsewhere.

    In my opinion, Enterprise should be at Edwards AFB, although to my knowledge their museum hasn’t submitted a proposal. (Jeff or anyone else, if there’s a web page that lists all the bidders, please let us know.) Enterprise did spend time in Huntsville for mating tests, as well as Vandenberg AFB. Then it travelled the world as an ambassador for the U.S. space program. So if it doesn’t go to Edwards, it should be somewhere in Southern California, although it does have the precedent of being displayed all over the world. Since Edwards and Vandenberg are Air Force facilities, maybe that’s the appropriate place for Enterprise.

  • Oops, I meant to conclude that the USAF Museum in Dayton OH is the appropriate place for Enterprise.

  • Jules Davis

    I cannot imagine either New York or Chicago being seriously considered. New York is too close to Washington DC to make sense. Chicago is too close to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, which I have no doubt will be and should be a resting place. Both KSC and MSFC have imitation orbiters that are almost as good as the real thing. MSFC’s was 098, nothing more than a large mass simulator structure that the Japansese modified to look real. KSC already has a couple of replica’s and they look as good as the real thing, the public doesn’t recognize a difference. KSC does not need another. So you have 4 choices for 4 Orbiters. Museum of Flight, most likely candidate is Enterprise because it proved the Shuttle could fly; Discovery to the Smithsonian, Atlantis to Dayton. That takes care of the three best aviation museums in the country. The last Orbiter, Endeavor, goes to JSC where they designed, developed, and managed it for the last 40 years. Edwards? There’s a museum at Edwards? The couple times I have driven by and tried to visit it was always closed for weekends and holidays; exactly the times you might expect most people to want to visit. Its pretty far out in the middle of nowhere so despite the historic nature of the place its not a serious contender.

  • Someone should start a betting pool. My prediction: Discovery to Smithsonian; Endeavour to KSC; Atlantis to Ohio; Enterprise to Chicago or New York.

  • Bill Hensley

    I know I’m biased because I’m from Houston, but it just seems crazy to me if one of the orbiters doesn’t end up at JSC. No other place on earth has a more significant and sustained connection to the shuttle program than KSC and JSC. So my vote would be: Smithsonian, KSC and JSC. Enterprise could go to one of the many worthy museums that have less connection to the program.

  • I also like the idea of sending Enterprise to Dryden/Edwards, with an Atlas and Delta going to WPAFB…

  • For those unfamiliar with the museum at Edwards AFB, here’s the link:

    For Jules Davis, who claims (1) there isn’t one but then writes (2) it’s always closed, this is from their web site:

    The Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The Museum is closed on all Federal Holidays.

    It’s run by volunteers, as is our Air Force Space & Missile Museum at Cape Canaveral. Both have free admission. Compare that to the KSC Visitor Complex, which is open nearly every day of the year but costs $42 just to enter. You get what you pay for.


    “In less than a month, on April 12, NASA administrator Charles Bolden is scheduled to announce which sites will receive the agency’s three shuttle orbiters—Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour—when the fleet is retired later this year.”

    A prime example of why Bolden is most likely headed for retirement this autumn – or just may be teeing himself up to be fired. This kind of chore is best delegated to underlings. Weekend work. Garage sale matters. A NASA administrator of any gravitas and influence would have more pressing matters related to the present and future of the agency at a crossroads in its existence than the disposition of used hardware.

  • Fred Cink

    If one half of the time, money and political influence that was being spent on squabbling over the resting places for the representative corpses of our earlier space program, were instead spent on the FUTURE of our space program I think we might get somewhere other than LEO before 2040. But then, this IS a perfect example of an empire/civilization in decline. But hey, just keep printing those welfare checks and fake dollars and everything will be JUST FINE… RIP USA.

  • Bob Mahoney

    This must be one of the most embarrassing displays of petty grasping gall to ever be associated with spaceflight, especially that of the NY & IL senators & congressmen. Truly nauseating, especially when set against the backdrop of how much our ‘leaders’ (across multiple administrations and congresses) have squandered such a precious capability by never seriously committing to the vibrant, singular, sustained, coherent, and expanding exploration effort for which these vehicles were conceived to support.

    Sadly, no matter where they are bestowed, the orbiters—like the unused Apollo hardware that preceded them into the realm of grand lawn ornaments and museum displays—will serve primarily as wistful monuments to the vast unrealized potential of their extensive capabilities and will only serve secondarily as artifacts which reflect the actual (and significant) accomplishments that the folks who brought them into being and operated them made possible.

  • T.J.

    Being a NY’er living out on LI I would love to see one wind up on the Intrepid but it would be criminal for KSC and JSC not to each get one.

  • justsaying

    Modeling the success of “The Moving Wall,” I wish that we could do the same with one of the orbiters.


    They’te quite literally ‘space junk.’ Antiques. The Smithsonian, deserves one– send Enterprise out to Edwards for display– the desert climate is good for the old bird; KSC shoulf get another and JSC can display the third on the front lawn. Let display and maintainence costs come out of NASA’s budget.

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