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.