NASA to Announce Shuttle Retirement Homes Today

NASA’s chief Charlie Bolden will be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday to announce where the space shuttles will spend their retirements.

The 30-year-old shuttle program is ending this summer after two final flights to deliver a Hubble-class science instrument, known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and a year’s worth of supplies to the International Space Station. Though budget uncertainties have kept NASA from moving forward with a follow-on program, the shutdown of the shuttles remains on track.

Competition to house a retired spaceship has been keen. I’m not a gambler, but the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center is an obvious pick. Why else would Bolden make his announcement here?

The fleet leader, Discovery, which completed its final spaceflight last month, is promised to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which plans to showcase the ship at its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. In exchange, the Smithsonian will give up its shuttle prototype, called Enterprise.

So the only real question is who gets the third shuttle and who gets the consolation prize, Enterprise? NASA says 21 institutions submitted proposals. They include the visitor center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA’s human space flight hub; New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum; the Museum of Flight in Seattle; and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located outside of Dayton, Ohio.

Bolden, a former astronaut, says the decision is his alone, so it will be interesting to learn the reasoning behind his selection. Houston obviously has the strongest tie to the program, along with Kennedy Space Center in Florida. New York’s got the tourist numbers. And Ohio, well, let’s just say they have politics in their favor. Not only did Pres. Obama’s budget request include $14 million to help the Air Force pay the shuttle’s $28 million travel fee, Ohio is looking like it will be a critical swing state in the 2012 election, which is of obvious interest to Bolden’s boss, President Obama.

Not that anyone’s asked me, but I’m more curious about where NASA sees its future, rather than how and where people can revel in its past. An announcement was expected last week about which firms will get NASA funding to help develop commercial spaceships. When will we know? “Announcement is still TBD,” says NASA.

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