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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Museum in Seattle good match for shuttle

NASA’s future is up in the air.

Its history, or at least a significant part of it, may land in Seattle.

Last year the National Aeronautics and Space Administration formally asked around about sending its three retiring space shuttles to museums or other appropriate institutions for public display. It’s a way-cool opportunity, and Seattle’s nonprofit Museum of Flight is enthusiastically offering itself as a home for the Enterprise, the Atlantis or the Endeavour.

Being a government operation, the decision is going to be tied up in political considerations. In an election year.

But on the merits, the Seattle institution has a compelling case to make, especially when it comes to addressing NASA’s – as well as the country’s – high-priority interest in promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM courses) among America’s middle school students.

The Museum of Flight already plays a prominent education role, not only in Seattle but across the state. Not that Washingtonians will need much convincing, but the case for Seattle is much broader than that. It has the population density NASA wants, an adequate runway for delivery of a shuttle on the back of a Boeing 747, a rich history as a contributor to the nation’s flight and space-exploration programs, and an acclaimed museum.

Twenty-seven astronauts have connections to the state, including Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, the Spokane resident and Cheney High School graduate who died on Feb. 1, 2003, when the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, and civilian mission specialist Bonnie Dunbar, a Sunnyside native and University of Washington graduate who’s now The Museum of Flight’s CEO.

Oh, and the museum has already broken ground on a $12 million, 15,500-square-foot, climate-controlled gallery where the historic spacecraft would rest.

Meanwhile, though, NASA’s five-year plan for returning astronauts to the moon was struck from President Barack Obama’s budget. There’s talk of Mars for future mission destinations, or an unnamed asteroid, but nobody knows for sure just now. Fiscal impacts matter, of course, and Congress will have to give budgetary consideration to whether NASA can absorb any expenses of this plan beyond transportation costs the receiving institutions would be expected to cover.

When might that be resolved? Well, it’s an election year, and there’s campaigning to do.

No decision date has been announced for NASA’s selection, but the word can’t be delayed much longer because NASA has hinted it will make delivery next year instead of 2012 as earlier proposed. The Museum of Flight is pushing to complete its gallery in time for 2011 delivery.

Where competing cities and institutions stand isn’t known because NASA isn’t saying who they are. Some bidders have been identified in scattered news accounts, but an accurate list isn’t available.

Let the countdown begin.