Opinion: And the Orbiter Goes To……

So it’s official.

The new homes for the Space Shuttle Orbiter’s were announced by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at an event held yesterday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

 Obiter Vehicle (OV)-103, Shuttle Discovery will be giving OV-101, the Test Orbiter Enterprise the boot at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F.Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington DC. No huge surprise there, the Udvar-Hazy Center had long been thought where the flagship of the orbiter fleet would spend her retirement.

OV-104 Shuttle Atlantis will be staying home at the Kennedy Space Center’s Visitors Center which is operated by the Delaware North Hospitality Management Company. Once more, no huge surprise there, it made sense for Atlantis to stay home since she was going to be the last Orbiter in the flight flow. It would be a fairly easy task to tow Atlantis to her new home after she returned from her scheduled STS 135/ULF 7 mission and was decontaminated. During a recent press conference Mike Leinbach, Shuttle Launch Director, indicated that the display for orbiter at KSC was going to “knock your socks off” It will be interesting to see what ultimately will be the final configuration of the exhibit.

 OV-105 Shuttle Endeavour now sitting out at Launch Complex 39A will be going to the California Science Center after she returns from her STS134/ULF 6 flight. In the commentary today Mr. Bolden said that the Center was close by to where the Shuttle’s were constructed in Palmdale. Thus, I guess, the contribution to the Space Transportation System Program.

After Discovery arrives at its new home, Enterprise, the prototype Orbiter, which performed aerodynamic drop tests in 1977 at Edwards Air Force Base and integration tests at Kennedy Space Center and later at Vandenberg Air Force Base will be moved just four hours up north to its new home: The Intrepid, Sea, Air, and Space Museum in Manhattan, New York City. The tie in to the program: the Intrepid served as a prime recovery vessel during the Mercury and Gemini programs and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies is located in Manhattan.

 NASA’s Olga Dominguez Assistant Administrator, for the Office of Strategic Infrastructure explained during a press conference yesterday that NASA wanted to make sure that as many individuals as possible could come see and appreciate the Orbiters. Her office conducted studies on all of the potential host facilities that wanted to host an Orbiter. Data points took into account factors such as regional population and international access. Reaching as many people as possible was the key.

 The results of that study on all of the locations that were in the running were given to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and according to Ms. Dominguez; Mr. Bolden approved the final recommendations.

 Ms. Dominguez indicated that all of the vehicles will become property of the receiving entity with the exception of Shuttle Atlantis. NASA owns the KSC Visitor Center thus Atlantis will remain NASA’s property. 

During the press conference Ms. Dominguez stressed that no one facility failed. There were just only four Orbiters to go around and the decision was based on the criteria of reaching as many people as possible.

NASA's  Johnson Spaceflight Center (JSC), the place that cared for these incredible machines from afar and prepared those who flew the Shuttle Orbiters will be surrendering its simulators to several other facilities at various locations around the country and in return will receive a set of flown Space Shuttle Commander and Pilot seats.

 (Insert sound of stylus being pulled across vinyl record here)

 I pictured the characters from “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” with all of the kids in their ghost costumes looking though their bags pointing out the candy they received. Then, JSC playing the role of Charlie Brown, looking through its bag saying “I got a rock!”

Ms. Dominguez during the press event  stressed that the flown Commander and Pilot seats represented signifcant and critical artifacts from the Shuttle Era and that JSC has and will continue to play a significant role in human space flight. However, a group of flown seats is hardly what JSC deserves. It seems odd to me that nary a one of the Shuttle simulators will stay at JSC.

There were some calls for a congressional investigation into NASA’s decision making process, Ms. Dominguez responded that she stands by the process used and welcomes any vetting that could take place. I hope that does not happen. We have better things to spend the US Taxpayer dollar on. I wonder if the same people calling for an inverstigation on how spaceflight artfiacts are distributed are equally outraged that we still don't know how much money NASA will receive for this fiscal year. 

Did politics play a role in the decison? No. Ms Dominguez indicated during the press event that  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden sheilded her and her office from any political pressure and that the decisons on the sites were made in a political and lobbying vacuum. 

 I was also a bit mystified at the attitude of the WNBC TV web saying “First the good news New York is getting an Orbiter; the bad news is that it’s one that never flew.” And the New York Daily News complaing that New York did not receive a flown Orbiter. Hey,  Big Apple, be happy and honored that you will be hosting Enterprise and that you will be receiving anything at all. I gave the New York Metro area a dim chance at hosting any of the Orbiters on the basis of one of the stated site requirements, contributions made  to the Shuttle Program.  Besides New York,  if you don’t want Enterprise I know a lot of folks in Clear Lake Texas, that would love to take her with open arms.

To those chosen to receive these magnificent vehicles,  please take what NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said with emotion to heart " Take good care of our vehicles. They served a nation well, and we at NASA have a deep and abiding relationship and love affair with them that is hard to put into words."