Next week brings the 30th anniversary of the first launch of the space shuttle. Festivities are planned for the KSC Visitor Complex (weather and government shut-down permitting) at which Administrator Charlie Bolden will announce where these historical spacecraft will retire. Allow me to place my prediction in writing, and to be used as a reference once the decision is released.
Discovery OV-103 - Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, VA
This is the only place previously announced, as the Smithsonian is granted first dibs to NASA hardware. The twist could occur if the money needed to provide this institution with the required funds to obtain the orbiter is not produce by congress. Would NASA give them a bye and allow for the time needed to get the funds, being in the same congressional budget boat? Or would they say the Enterprise is good enough and be satisfied with that? My bet is they get it, which would leave Enterprise available to fly somewhere else.
Atlantis OV-104 - National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, OH
This selection would place an orbiter in the center of the Heartland, but also acknowledge the contribution of the USAF in the development of the orbiter. Fully half of the development cost was carried by the Air Force, and plans to provide an orbiter (Discovery) to be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base ere well underway when the Challenger accident occurred. This disaster caused the military to rethink their plans to use orbiters and they withdrew their claim, allowing Discovery to remain with NASA. Never the less, the orbiter was used to launch many military payloads and it seems fitting to honor the missions by granting a shuttle to the Air Force Museum.
Endeavour OV-105 - Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, KSC, FL
I'm trying hard to be biased here, but among all the proposals I have seen, this one tops the list. Where many of the proposed displays consisted of versions of "we will build a big glass box to put the orbiter in", the KSCVC has an outstanding presentation to not only showcase an orbiter but to tell its story. After entering a preshow orientation that highlights the process of getting an orbiter ready for flight, a wall opens to reveal Endeavour, suspended at a 45º angle in front of moving representation of the Earth from orbit. A walkway allows for views of the orbit up close and personal while maintaining the integrity and safety of the vehicle. Alcoves off the main floor will highlight the Hubble Space Telescope, International Space Station, and the shuttle programs. All this will be constructed in front of the existing Shuttle Launch Experience attraction, so after your encounter, you can see what it is like to ride one. No other venue allows for such a complete experience. Besides, Administrator Bolden would have to have a tremendous amount of chutzpah to announce at KSC without promising one of the orbiters would stay. And, as Center Director Bob Cabana says, "Possession is 9/10ths of the law!"
Enterprise OV-101 Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA
While this is one of those 'glass boxes' I mocked earlier, I believe one of the orbiters would find a home on the west coast and this seems the likely place. Having astronaut Bonnie Dunbar as the museum director can't hurt. And though Enterprise never reached orbit I think the museum would be thrilled at the acquisition.
Wild cards - Three other locations have high hopes and some compelling strengths (mostly political) that may alter the above placement: Space Center Houston, Houston, TX; Intrepid Air & Space Museum, New York, NY; and Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL. While these locations each offer large populations that an orbiter could attract, only Houston has the historical perspective that such a placement would complement. I just don't think the SCH has the facilities or capability at this point to provide for the needs of an orbiter. In my humble opinion, an orbiter going to any of these otherwise worthy museums would indicate a compromise of principals and be made for purely political reasons.
Next week will show if my predictions are correct. Until then, leave your comments.