Monday, November 30, 2009

Which museum will get the space shuttle orbiters?

Today is the deadline for schools, museums and other organizations to get in their proposals to get some priceless artifacts from the soon-to-end space shuttle program.

A real flight simulator used by astronauts in training, spacesuit gloves and parts, a piece of an orbiter wing panel and a host of other items are up for grabs once the space shuttle program no longer needs them -- sometime in the next two years.

The competition to nab those display pieces will be tough because there are so many excellent aerospace and science exhibits across the United States.

However, it will be nothing like the political intrigue behind what becomes of the three most treasured artifacts of the space shuttle program.

When the space shuttles retire after 30 years of flight, probably in 2011, the shuttle Discovery is bound for the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum.

The museum already has Enterprise, a flight-test orbiter, on display at its annex in the Virginia suburbs outside Washington, DC.

In a decision likely to reach the White House, the space shuttle orbiters Endeavour and Atlantis will be handed over to two other facilities.

They're bound to become huge tourist draws and the star of any space and science museum's collection.

Here on the Space Coast, people seem confident one of the two orbiters will end up at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

This is the shuttles' home port. It's where they launched from. It's where they returned upon landing, and where thousands toiled to prepare for their next journeys to space.

Don't get too presumptuous.

There are high costs and big-time politics at play here.

Whoever lands the orbiter must pay NASA more than $40 million for preparing the orbiter for safe display and transporting it to its new home.

A group must demonstrate it has the right facilities and know-how for maintaining such a priceless historic artifact.

I saw Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana the other night. The former space shuttle astronaut is partial to keeping Endeavour here in Florida.

The private company that runs the KSC Visitor Complex has long talked about a space shuttle expansion at their facility outside Titusville, built around a retired orbiter.

Official proposals will be made, but so will quiet politicking behind the scenes.

Cabana's talked since the day he got here about making sure that one of the orbiters remains in Florida after its service life.

He's repeatedly joked about possession being nine-tenths of the law.

That's not to say there aren't other viable contenders.

The Air Force's museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is making an aggressive bid to get one of the orbiters for its noteworthy collection of aircraft.

They've got the money and viable expansion plans, as well as a pedigree for this kind of preservation.

California, where the orbiters were built, and Texas, where the orbiters were designed and operated from while in orbit, also could make strong cases.

And the politicians from all those big states already are working their contacts in Washington, seeking influence over the final decision. Stay tuned.


Bruce said...

Why not North Carolina?
The birthplace of flight you know.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope they strip out all the usable parts (main engines, thrusters, etc.) for future use. It would be a shame to have all those things rusting away instead of put to good use (even for one flight!).

Rick Steele
Sarasota, Florida

Anonymous said...

With all the corruption surrounding the Obama/Chicago connection, I would bet that Daley will wind up with one in the Windy City.

Anonymous said...

> With all the corruption surrounding the
> Obama/Chicago connection, I would bet that
> Daley will wind up with one in the Windy City.

Yeah, and once it's there, Daley will order his thugs to cut it up into little pieces with chainsaws in the middle of the night to make room for a new janitorial services complex or something.

RIP Meigs Field!!!

Anonymous said...

The real shame is that the orbiters won't be flying. They were built for at least 100 missions each. They were going to be flying until 2020, until Bush came up with his "Moon, Mars and Beyond....." bright idea in 2004. Now we will spend $100B for a new vehicle that will carry four people in a tiny capsule (vs seven in a reusable spaceplane), will fly twice a year (the Shuttle can easily fly six times a year) and will carry just a few hundred pounds of cargo (the Shuttle just carried 22,500 pounds.) We are spending a fortune for a new system that is just as expensive, uses older technology, and has inferior performance.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 5:55 PM - Sure the orbiters were designed for 100 missions each, but they were also supposed to be turned around and launched at a much faster rate than ever happened. And there's no way a single shuttle could ever fly six times in a year. We can't sustain six launches a year with three orbiters (or 4).

While I agree that the shuttles should be retained as a heavy lift option for a while longer (at much lower launch rates), there's no way they'll ever last long enough to do 100 missions each. Unless we pour WAY more money into them and, given their advancing age, that's unlikely.

Anonymous said...

The Shuttle fleet and its supporting facilities should be declared a "National Historic Site" in place, Kennedy Space Center Florida. Kennedy Space Center and the Shuttle fleet is where and how our nation made "Transportation History" to space and return to earth.

Anonymous said...

>>And there's no way a single shuttle could ever fly six times in a year. We can't sustain six launches a year with three orbiters (or 4).

I meant that the fleet could fly six times a year, which is three times what Constellation will do. At seven crew, this is 42 seats a year, vs. only 8 total for the two Orion capsules.

As to the "advancing age" of the shuttles, most of the planes at Tico are older, and any airliner you ride in has been through hundreds or thousands of flight cycles. Any aircraft must be regularly inspected and maintained, but as long as that is done, it can be flown safely, and age is really immaterial. In fact, the more any launch vehicle is flown, the safer it is, because problems discovered along the way are fixed.

The accounts in the press that the shuttles are getting "old and unsafe" have no basis in reliability engineering, or even in the history of the Shuttle Program. They are a modern myth, created from whole cloth to make Constellation seem inevitable, regardless of its deficiencies.

Of course the Shuttle should be replaced - when we have something better, not simply something different.

Anonymous said...

Why not Dayton, OH (at National Museum of the United States Air Force)? The Wright Brothers "invented" the airplane there before they took it to Kittyhawk, NC. It would be fitting to incorporate the end of the newest technology with the beginning of the oldest (and everything in between).