Thursday, December 16, 2010

SCIENCE - Space Shuttle Exhibit

"Exhibit plans shared for retired space shuttles" by Robert Z. Pearlman, collectSPACE 12/16/2010

Plans are moving forward for the display of two of NASA's soon-to-be-retired space shuttles at the Smithsonian and Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Although NASA has yet to announce where its orbiters will be dispatched once they cease flying missions next year, recent actions have helped remove obstacles and clarify the logistics for the Washington, D.C. institution and the Cape Canaveral, Fla. spaceport to receive shuttles.

In the case of the Smithsonian, it was long thought to be the future home of shuttle Discovery, NASA's oldest flying orbiter. Recently, budget constraints called that plan into question.

As first reported by collectSPACE last month, NASA was not prepared to cover the estimated $28.8 million needed to prepare and transport the shuttle to the institution.

Now Congress is passing legislation to make NASA do just that.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex wouldn't incur the costs to fly a shuttle to its facility it would simply need to roll the orbiter down the road. But up until now, the tourist attraction has trailed many of the other 20 shuttle suitors releasing their display plan s for an orbiter, assuming they were granted one.

On Wednesday, the visitor complex revealed its intentions to build a $100 million exhibit to showcase a shuttle.

No or nominal cost

When NASA first said it was reserving Discovery for the Smithsonian in 2008, the agency made it clear that the custodian of the National Collection would still need to cover the then-estimated $42 million to ready and deliver the shuttle.

The cost, which lowered to $28.8 million at the beginning of this year, was still said to be beyond the Smithsonian's reach, according to sources close to the National Air and Space Museum who spoke with collectSPACE.

The Smithsonian refused interview requests, but public documents showed that the National Air and Space Museum's total annual budget including the National Mall building; its Chantilly, Virginia-based annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center; and the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility located in Suitland, Maryland was about equal to the $28.8 million required by NASA.

As a result, for the first time since the discussion began about where the orbiters would go, Discovery seemed like it might be up for grabs. That is, until Congress decided to get involved.

On the evening of Dec. 8, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a yearlong continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government. The bill included a budget for NASA and "an interesting shuttle provision," as described by Jeff Foust writing on his blog

"The CR devotes nearly a page to issues associated with the disposition of shuttle orbiters... in particular cutting a special deal for the Smithsonian," Foust reported.

The spending bill excuses the Smithsonian from bearing the costs for transportation and preparing a retired orbiter for display.

"Should the Administrator determine that the Smithsonian Institution is an appropriate venue for an orbiter, such orbiter shall be made available to the Smithsonian at no or nominal cost," the resolution reads.

The Senate has yet to take up its own version, but a draft of the omnibus appropriations bill released on Wednesday included the same language.

Assuming it passes with that provision intact, Discovery should be Smithsonian-bound.

If so, then the Smithsonian's plan is to replace the prototype shuttle Enterprise, now on display in the McDonnell Space Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center, with the flown-in-space orbiter.

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