CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – On a memorable day in space history, NASA began its goodbyes to the shuttle program Tuesday, announcing the aged spacecraft will retire to museums in Cape Canaveral, Los Angeles and suburban Washington and sending a test-flight orbiter to New York City.
It was an emotional day – the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch and the 50th anniversary of man’s first journey into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Just two more shuttle flights remain, and the head of NASA choked up as he revealed the new homes for the spacecraft in an event at the Kennedy Space Center.
“For all of them, take good care of our vehicles,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said with a catch in his voice. “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.”
The choice of homes for the spaceships – sometimes described as the most complex machinery ever devised – was hotly contested. Twenty-one museums and visitor centers around the country put in bids.
The winners will have to come up with an estimated $28.8 million to ferry the shuttles to their new homes and put them on display.
After it closes out the program, shuttle Atlantis will stay in Cape Canaveral at the space center’s visitor complex, just miles from the pair of launch pads used to shoot the orbiters into space. Space center workers, some of whom are likely to lose jobs when the shuttles quit flying later this summer, gave Bolden a standing ovation and whooped and hollered with the news.
But there was no celebrating among the hundreds of visitors and workers watching the announcement on television at the National Museum of the Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, the hometown of the Wright brothers.
The decision “doesn’t recognize the contributions and innovations that came from the heartland,” complained Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican.
Houston was bitterly disappointed that Johnson Space Center, home of Mission Control, would only get seats from a shuttle.
“There was no other city with our history of human space flight or more deserving of a retiring orbiter,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said.
Olga Dominguez, an assistant NASA administrator, said among the factors for NASA’s choices was reaching the largest population possible. The chosen locations already draw more than 1 million visitors apiece each year.