Houston to NASA: We have a problem

NASA’s decision Tuesday on where to house its retired space shuttles touched off celebrations from some lawmakers and recriminations from others.

Texas’s delegation in particular was furious over NASA’s decision not to place one of the former shuttles in Houston, the home of mission control.

ADVERTISEMENT
“With this White House I always expect the worst and am rarely disappointed,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in a statement released shortly after NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced the decisions at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The NASA snub also angered Houston Democrats, who generally support the Obama administration.

“Disappointed that the #spaceshuttle will not go to Houston’s JSC,” tweeted Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), whose district includes parts of Houston. “We are the home of human space flight.”

Houston had launched a campaign, called “Bring Home the Shuttle,” to convince NASA to place one of the retiring shuttles there. Officials noted that the city’s nickname is the “Space City.”

“What this decision won’t change is the legacy of the men and women of Johnson Space Center who have changed the face of manned space flight forever,” Brady continued. “Their innovation, dedication — and even the loss of loved ones in pursuit of their mission — will live far beyond the tawdry politics of today.”

Relatives of five astronauts who died in space shuttle accidents said they were “heartbroken” by the decision to pass Houston over, according to a statement sent to The Hill.

“Home is where the heart is, and Houston has served as the heart of the space shuttle program since its inception nearly four decades ago. All the astronauts lost were Houston’s residents,” said the statement, issued by Evelyn Husband Thompson, Jonathan Clark, Sandy Anderson, Lorna Onizuka and Cheryl McNair, who were all married to astronauts who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion or the 2003 Columbia accident. 

Bolden announced the shuttles would be permanently housed in New York City; near Washington, D.C.; in Los Angeles; and on Merritt Island, Fla.

Bolden made no specific mention of Houston. But he said many of the more than 20 cities that had applied deserved a shuttle, though they could not all be accommodated.
 

“There were many worthy institutions that requested an orbiter, and only four to go around,” he said during the speech, which marked the 30th anniversary of the U.S. space shuttle program.

Lawmakers in victorious places like Florida were much happier than their Texan counterparts.

“Thirty years ago today, the United States launched its first space shuttle mission from Kennedy Space Center, demonstrating our country’s commitment to space exploration and our future,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “On this anniversary, it is only fitting that the orbiter Atlantis is being retired at Kennedy Space Center, the location of every single shuttle launch.”

Still, Rubio pondered what’s next for the NASA program, which is set to end this summer after two final missions on Endeavour and Atlantis.

“While this is welcome news for Florida, I am nonetheless concerned about the overall impact NASA’s retreat from manned space exploration will have on scientific progress, our economy and national security,” Rubio said.

NASA gave Florida Atlantis, which will launch its final mission from the Kennedy Space Center on June 28.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour, which will leave for its final mission April 19, will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

The Space Shuttle Enterprise, never flown in space but used as a prototype for tests at the beginning of the program, would be moved from Washington, D.C., to New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan, Bolden said.

Enterprise will be replaced in D.C. by the Space Shuttle Discovery, which will go to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. 

Other museums that sought shuttles include the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Bold­­­en has stressed in recent days that the shuttle decisions were apolitical, though he acknowledged unsuccessful cities might never believe that.

“This process has been as pure as I could make it and free of any political involvement,” The New York Times reported him saying during a Senate hearing Monday. “I can say that until I am blue in the face, but there will always be someone who will have the opinion that that was not the case.”

The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which set out the process for the retirement of the space shuttles, said they should go to locations best able to host the display and with the best potential value to the public.

Bolden said Tuesday he was confident New York, Washington, Los Angeles and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida fit that description. “People from across our nation and around the world will continue to learn from these amazing vehicles,” he said of the victorious museums.

Bolden, a former astronaut, was noticeably emotional about announcing the final destinations of the space shuttles.

“Take good care of our vehicles,” Bolden said. “They have served the nation well, and we at NASA have a deep and abiding love affair with them that’s hard to put in words.”

Tuesday’s announcement came on the 50th anniversary of human space flight.