As the holiday season kicks into high gear, a few cities are scrambling for one of the biggest gifts imaginable: a space shuttle. Now that the shuttles are retiring, it's time to decide their final homes.
The final space shuttle mission will see Discovery, the oldest operational shuttle, deliver supplies to the International Space Station on December 3. Once that mission is concluded, the three surviving shuttles - Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour - go into retirement, and the question becomes where should be their final resting places.
Discovery is probably headed to Washington to go on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air & Space Museum. The Smithsonian is thought to be first on the pecking order, so they will most likely get what they want. The museum is already home to Enterprise, a prototype shuttle that was used for test landings but never flew into space. It's possible that Enterprise would then be surplus to requirements and go on display elsewhere, but there's no indications of that so far.
So that leaves Atlantis and Endeavour. The hardest push is being made by New York City's Intrepid Sea-Air and Space Museum. Executive director Susan Marenoff explains why she thinks their museum is a natural choice:
"We believe the merits of New York City and the Intrepid will continue to position New York to be a final destination for a shuttle. The opportunity for an enormous population to visit, to learn and simply see this icon in a contextual historical setting simply cannot be ignored."
It's not a bad argument, and the museum has launched a number of campaigns in an effort to drum up support. New York, however, isn't the only possible landing spot for a shuttle, and the smart money says a shuttle is headed to Texas. There are political factors in play here, as Texas Republicans in the House soon take control of important committees that have a lot of say in NASA's budget. When combined with Houston's longstanding role as NASA's mission control, there's a very good chance Texas is getting a shuttle.
That still should leave one shuttle, of course. About two dozen museums and institutions have put in a bid for a shuttle, including Oklahoma's Tulsa Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the Bryan, Texas's Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, McMinnville, Oregon's Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, Los Angeles's California Science Center in Los Angeles, and, last but certainly not least, Florida's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Some of these bids are likely more serious than others. For my money, I'd say historical reasons should favor the Kennedy Space Center, although it would also be nice to have a space shuttle on both coasts, which most likely means the California Space Center. Of course, either scenario would leave New York City out in the cold, and I suspect the Big Apple's appeal may well trump any historical or bicoastal sentiments.
The likely fierce fight for the space shuttles begins next year.