26 April 2011

Space Shuttle Resting Place

The Economist: Babbage | N.V. | The space shuttle: The Difference Engine: Houston, we have a problem...

A score or more of museums and other institutions around the country competed for the honour of having a shuttle in their permanent collection. Apart from offering an appealing display, each had to be ready to stump up $28.8m to cover the cost of preparing and transporting the winged spacecraft to its new location. Of the three other remaining shuttles, Discovery is destined for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum annexe outside Washington, DC. After the launch in late June of the 135th (and last) mission in the shuttle programme, Atlantis will remain in Florida to be exhibited at the Kennedy Space Centre’s visitor centre.
(There was also, IIRC, a requirement that the museum be adjacent to a runway so they could transport the thing. That rules out most museums.)
Meanwhile, after its own final mission later this month, Endeavour, the youngest of the shuttles, will be ferried to Los Angeles to end its days in the California Science Centre, alongside existing exhibits of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and close to the old Rockwell plant in Palmdale where the shuttle was developed. Meanwhile, just up the road, at Edwards Air Force Base, is the runway where nearly half of all shuttle flights touched down.

So, three shuttle exhibits on the East Coast, one of the West Coast, and nothing in between. The good citizens of Houston are rightly indignant about being deprived of their space-age heritage. And it is not just Texans who are irked by NASA’s seemingly bizarre decision. Jason Chaffetz, a Congressman from Utah (not Texas) has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would “restore common sense and fairness” and send one of the shuttles to Houston rather than New York. “Instead of relying on political guidance systems, these decisions must be steered by history and logic,” Mr Chaffetz insists.
Yes yes! Let's remove politics from the process BY SETTLING THIS IN CONGRESS! Surely there is no less political, more rational and objective entity in all the land than the esteemed and honorable United States Congress.

This, ladies and gentleman, is why I do not put much faith in things like the IPAB Obama is pushing for. As soon as they come up with a decision someone doesn't like we'll get nothing but hue and cry that the decision was "politicized" and our politicians must "FIX IT!"  Our politicians can not make a good faith guarantee that they will not meddle in the results of "independent" technocratic committees.

And if this space shuttle wasn't a big enough farce already, lets not forget this:
For the record, it should be noted that Houston only became the home of mission control as a result of political wrangling at the highest level in the early 1960s. The original mission-control centre was at the Cape. But a bigger site was sought to accommodate the testing and research facilities needed for the Apollo mission to the Moon. The Houston proposal met only half the criteria set for the new location, while several other sites had better qualifications all round, especially the Boston area of Massachusetts. However, back-stage bullying by Lyndon Johnson—as the Senate majority leader from Texas and later as Vice-President and subsequently President—won the day for Houston. The Manned Spacecraft Centre, which opened there in 1963, was renamed the Johnson Space Centre in 1973 in honour of its political patron.

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