NASA Chooses New Homes for Retiring Shuttles

By: From CNN
By: From CNN

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- NASA announced Tuesday the new retirement homes for the four remaining space shuttles -- three historic orbiters and the program's test vehicle.

The space shuttle Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida; the Endeavour, at the California Science Center in Los Angeles; the Discovery, at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia; and the test shuttle, Enterprise, at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. said during a ceremony at the Kennedy Center.

The announcement was made on the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program's first flight, made by the subsequently ill-fated Columbia orbiter, and the 50th anniversary of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human in space.

More than 20 locations around the country sought one of the orbiters because of the potential tourist draw. The drama mirrored the bidding to host an Olympic games.

Supporters of sites that were rejected expressed disappointment.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Johnson Space Center in Houston should have been one of the retirement homes for an orbiter, "but it is clear political favors trumped common sense and fairness in the selection of the final locations for the orbiter fleet," he said in a statement.

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He noted that Houston "played a critical role throughout the life of the space shuttle."

"Like many Texans, I am disappointed with NASA's decision to slight the Johnson Space Center as a permanent home for one of the space shuttle orbiters," Cornyn said.

"There is no question Houston should have been selected as a final home for one of the orbiters -- even Administrator Bolden stated as much. Today's announcement is an affront to the thousands of dedicated men and women at Johnson Space Center, the greater Houston community and the state of Texas, and I'm deeply disappointed with the administration's misguided decision," Cornyn said.

In Los Angeles, shortly after NASA's announcement, California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph told reporters that the Endeavour would boost the center's annual 1.4 million visitors to about 2 million people a year.

The center plans to use the orbiter as the centerpiece to a new air and space gallery, which would cost $200 million and is part of the center's 25-year master plan, Rudolph said. That price tag includes the $28.8 million that the center must pay NASA to prepare and relocate the orbiter to Los Angeles, he said. The center hasn't hired an architect yet to design the new facility and is now planning a fundraiser, he said.

"Obviously, we were thrilled. We got the word this morning, shortly before the announcement," Rudolph said of his reaction to winning one of the shuttles.

"The fact that the shuttle was created here in California had a lot to do with giving us a leg up" over the competition, Rudolph said. "It's a fitting place for this national treasure."

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The center, which also features a Los Angeles charter school, is the most attended museum in southern California and one of the most attended in the country, Rudolph said.

The Los Angeles center's existing air and space gallery is now home to the Mercury-Redstone 2 capsule that carried Ham, a chimpanzee, on a suborbital flight, and the Gemini 11 capsule flown by astronauts Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon on an orbital flight.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said she and Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- both California Democrats -- wrote to NASA's Bolden last year asking that California become home to one of the shuttles because the state has a long history with the shuttle program.

Beginning in 1972, all five space shuttle orbiters were fabricated in Downey, California, and assembled in Palmdale, California, Boxer said in a statement. All of the space shuttles were tested at Edwards Air Force Base just outside of Palmdale, where 53 of NASA's 133 shuttle missions landed, she said.

The Endeavour will take its final flight on April 29, and prior to this launch, it will have been used on 24 missions, orbited the earth 4,429 times and traveled 103,149,636 miles, Boxer said.

"California has a long history of supporting the shuttle program and we are proud to welcome this inspiring symbol of American scientific achievement and ingenuity to the Golden State," Boxer said in a statement.

Audience members at the Kennedy Space Center cheered when Bolden announced the Atlantis would be assigned to that launch facility. Many people in the gallery were center workers, some of whom are likely to lose their jobs when the shuttle program ends.

Because the announcement was being made at Kennedy, expectations were high that the visitor center would be awarded one of the shuttles.

The Atlantis will fly the last planned shuttle mission in June, NASA said.

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