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Politics

Museums Vie to House Space Shuttles

August 26, 2010 - 6:00pm

A new space race is under way -- to house NASA's retiring space shuttles.

Twenty venues around the nation are vying to be the final resting place for three shuttle craft.

The Kennedy Space Center figures it has as good a shot as anyone. After all, all 132 shuttle missions were launched from the Cape.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a former astronaut, is lobbying vigorously for the Sunshine State. And Bill Moore, chief operating officer of KSC's visitor center, says his engineers can design the best exhibit.

"A shuttle's not something that should be displayed on three wheels on concrete," Moore told the Wall Street Journal, suggesting KSC would show its shuttle as it operates in space.

But the selection process -- which is heated and could become political, with congressional involvement looming on the horizon -- won't necessarily favor Florida as lobbyists from California to New York launch their campaigns.

NASA has already guaranteed the shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The fleet's oldest shuttle, Discovery, will replace the cannibalized shuttle Enterprise, which resides at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center adjacent to Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

To qualify for a shot at housing the two other active shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavor, or the displaced Enterprise, each applicant must have $28.8 million to pay for shipping and handling.

Logistically speaking, the move requires a nearby runway that can accommodate a jumbo jet, and the ability to haul the shuttle to its destination without dismantling it.

Also, only indoor, climate-controlled venues are being considered. "(The shuttles) leak like a sieve," Dennis Jenkins, a longtime shuttle observer, told the Journal.

Among Florida's stiffest competitors are museums in Texas, home to mission control, and Dayton, Ohio, home of the National Museum of the Air Force and the Wright brothers.

New York City argues that it can draw the biggest crowds, while three museums in California say that they deserve the inside track because many shuttle missions landed there.

Chicago's Adler Museum entered the sweepstakes, noting that the Windy City is the largest urban center in the Midwest. Seattle, Huntsville, Ala., and McMinnville, Ore., are also in the mix, touting their aerospace and aviation roots.

With the last shuttle flight scheduled for next year, NASA has not set a timeline for site selection. But the maneuvering on Capitol Hill is well under way.

Members of Congress from Texas and Florida reportedly tried to slip a measure in a NASA bill that would give preference to communities with a "historical relationship with either the launch, flight operations or processing" of shuttles. That language was stripped out of the House bill.

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Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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