Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Big Shuttle News Coming On 30th Anniversary

On the 30th anniversary of the the nation's first space shuttle flight, NASA chief Charles Bolden is expected to announce today that the orbiter Atlantis will be put on permanent display at Kennedy Space Center after its retirement.

Several NASA sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Monday that Atlantis would roost in retirement at the KSC Visitor Complex, a popular tourist attraction where people can see the vehicle at the site where it has rocketed into space 32 times.

Bolden, a former astronaut who flew into space with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando and a big NASA backer in Congress, will name the four institutions that will display Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour and Enterprise. Enterprise is a shuttle prototype now housed at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum's annex near Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.

You can watch NASA TV coverage of the 1 p.m. announcement right here in The Flame Trench. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage. Be sure to refresh this page for periodic updates, and we'll have a CoverItLive interactive blog up and operating during the announcement.

Check in a little earlier, at 11:45 a.m., and see a space-to-ground news conference with the multinational crew of the International Space Station. The six explorers from Russia, the U.S. and Italy will field questions on the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight and the 50th anniversary of the April 12, 1961 launch of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to fly in outer space.

It's no coincidence that Bolden will be here on the Space Coast for the orbiter announcement, and that he'll address NASA and contractor workers right outside Orbiter Processing Facility Bay No. 1, the shuttle hangar where Atlantis is being readied for NASA's 135th and final shuttle flight. The 33rd and final flight of Atlantis is slated to blast off from launch pad 39A on June 28.

More than 20 museums, planetariums and educational institutions around the country have submitted orbiter display proposals to NASA and have been lobbying extensively for one of the priceless spaceships. The selection process has been a bit of a political football for NASA.

Today’s announcement comes on the 30th anniversary of STS-1, the nation's first shuttle flight, and the mission's pilot, Robert Crippen, is expected to be there along with KSC Director Robert Cabana. Crippen was shuttle program manager and director of KSC during separate stints in the 1990s.

Discovery is expected to wind up at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum facility in Chantilly, Va., just outside Washington, D.C.

With Atlantis apparently headed to Brevard, that leaves Endeavour and Enterprise up for grabs.

Other leading contenders include the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City; Johnson Space Center in Houston; the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio; and The Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Click HERE to read Dave Berman's story regarding signs that an orbiter will indeed to be located at KSC in retirement.

Click HERE to read a retrospective FLORIDA TODAY's James Dean wrote on the shuttle's maiden voyage.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the NASA images of Atlantis being readied for flight in the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building. You can also click the enlarged images to get an even bigger, more detailed view. Photo credits: NASA/Cory Huston. top; NASA/Jack Pfaller, next two.

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