NASA’s selection of new homes for the retired Space Shuttles has been more than a little messy.
The space agency’s own inspector general found multiple mistakes in the selection process, but NASA insisted that it didn’t affect the outcome. Seattle’s Museum of Flight, which came up just short of landing one of the Space Shuttles, recently raised new questions about the data and said it would have ended up ahead of New York and Los Angeles if the correct numbers were used.
Now, amid persistent questions about the ability of New York and California to house their awarded shuttles on schedule, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire seems to have had enough. Here’s the letter from Gregoire to NASA administrator Charles Bolden on Friday, from a copy we requested from the governor’s office.
Dear Administrator Bolden:
I am writing you again on the topic of the retiring Space Shuttles, and the Museum of Flight’s readiness to temporarily store either Endeavour or Enterprise. As you are aware, neither California nor New York have permanent structures in place to house the shuttles, and both face fundraising and logistical challenges that pose a serious risk to the successful transfer of the orbiters by the end of 2012. The inability of either location to adhere to their commitments undermines the security of these priceless artifacts, as well as NASA’s promises for immediate public access.
The Museum of Flight (MOF) has offered to temporarily house either the Endeavour or the Enterprise, keeping NASA’s public access and educational mission central. The MOF presented this idea to you with my support. You asked that they work with New York and California, which they have tried to do with no success. For this to be a viable option, your direct engagement is needed. I strongly urge you to personally oversee the interim plans presented by California and New York and determine an appropriate temporary display option that befits these national treasures and ensures that NASA’s commitments to the American public are upheld.
While I share your desire to have these priceless artifacts seen by the largest number of people, the concept of storing them in any form of short-term facility with limited or no public access is unacceptable. NASA has repeatedly stated that public access and educational opportunities were foundational in its decision-making process, and they should remain so as the timeline to delivery moves forward. Given that the Endeavour and Enterprise will not be fully available to the public until 2016 and 2014 respectively, it seems prudent to allow full access to at least one of them at the MOF until the scheduled transfer in 2012.
As NASA continues to work with the Orbiter recipients, the MOF’s completed state-of-the-art, climate-controlled display facility, which was specifically designed for the shuttle, is available immediately. It provides NASA an opportunity for positive media as the public continues to scrutinize the readiness of the selected sites, including the fact that New York has now changed its plans on where to site the shuttle — a plan that many agree is unrealistic.
Washington’s history is inextricably linked to our aerospace and technology industries, making our citizens all the more engaged and committed to a world class space exploration display. Through public and private organizations, Washingtonians made generous contributions to ensure the MOF would meet NASA’s educational mission and delivery requirements.
Furthermore, the MOF designed a realistic strategic plan to receive, display and maintain one of these priceless vehicles, including a transportation plan that would land the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft on the 10,000-foot runway at Boeing Field, allowing for the easy movement of a shuttle from the 747 to the display site. The MOF also funded the relocation of power lines and traffic lights to ensure that the shuttle’s large vertical tail would clear these city obstacles. You may wish to consider the transit plan for the Endeavour in this light. By its own admission, the California Science Center has not determined how to move the shuttle from LAX to the museum. In contrast, the MOF’s location on Boeing Field nullifies risk to the orbiter transportation plan.
You have visited the MOF and know that it is a highly-regarded, AAM accredited Smithsonian Affiliate, worthy of displaying a national treasure. The MOF is already inspiring the next generation of explorers and engineers, some of whom you met during your visit in February 2011, and we stand ready to assist NASA in preserving the incredible legacy of the space shuttle program.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your response.
Christine O. Gregoire
For what it’s worth, Washington isn’t the only state making a pitch like this.
What do you think? Does Seattle still have a shot? Or should we just let it go?
One thing’s for sure: Officials in California and New York would be smart to get their acts together if they want these types of questions to go away.