October 25, 2011 in Region

Gregoire tries again for retired space shuttle

Associated Press
John Raoux photo

The space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center Friday, July 8, 2011, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Atlantis is the 135th and final space shuttle launch for NASA.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE — The governor has sent a letter offering to help NASA find a temporary home for a retired space shuttle, while California and New York ready permanent new homes.

Seattle’s Museum of Flight is ready to shelter a shuttle, while California and New York face fundraising and logistical challenges, Gov. Chris Gregoire wrote in a letter sent late Friday to NASA.

“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,” Gregoire wrote.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was out of the country and unavailable for comment on possible moves involving the Endeavor and Enterprise shuttles.

The 30-year space shuttle program ended in July with its last flight.

Gregoire reminded NASA that it has repeatedly said public access and educational opportunities were at the top of the list when deciding where to house shuttles after the spacecraft are retired.

The Museum of Flight learned in April that it had not been chosen to display one of the retired shuttles, but Seattle’s museum will get a full-scale training mock-up that looks like the space shuttle without wings.

A new $12 million building called the Space Gallery is being prepared for the display.

The museum near Boeing Field was one of 21 museums and science centers hoping to land one of the spaceships.

Museum President Doug King said a delegation from the museum met with Bolden a few months ago and also offered temporary display space.

Bolden said he would support the idea of a temporary stop in Seattle if it met the needs of one of the other museums in Los Angeles and New York, but he left it up to the museums to make the arrangements, King said.

“If they’re going to put it in a hanger for a few years, why not put it here for now,” he said.

The Enterprise shuttle will be going to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. Atlantis is bound for Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Endeavor is going to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

NASA spokesman Michael Curie said the agency believes everything is on target for processing and delivering the space shuttles to the selected museums.

“However, we appreciate the governor’s generous offer,” he said, reiterating the agency wants to send the shuttles to places where the greatest number of people can see them.

Lawmakers and officials from Houston and Dayton — two other cities that had competed for a shuttle — had requested an investigation of the bidding process. The study released in August by the space agency’s watchdog found NASA acted properly when it picked new homes for the retired space shuttles.

The decision was based on attendance, population, financial support and the facility. NASA said 13 of the bidders met the requirements, and the agency made its final decisions based on criteria such as population and potential for international visitors.

Leaders of the Seattle museum believe it should have gotten more credit in the process for actually having a building ready to go, but King said he would leave the politics to the governor and the state’s congressional delegation.

“We don’t want to be part of a problem here; we just want to be part of a solution,” he said.

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