NASA has now announced the shuttle Discovery will go to the Smithsonian Institution near Washington, Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and Atlantis to the Kennedy Space Center visitors' complex in Florida. New York City won the prototype shuttle Enterprise, which was used in early tests and will move from the Smithsonian.
The most conspicuous loser in the shuttle sweepstakes was Houston, the home of mission control and NASA's astronauts -- and the city is not taking it well. To use a New York phrase: What are they, chopped liver?
"The thought of an Orbiter not coming home to rest at Space Center Houston is truly tragic," said Rep.John Culberson, a Texas Republican, in a statement. "It is analogous to Detroit without a Model-T, or Florence without a da Vinci."
When Neil Armstrong radioed "one giant leap for mankind" from the moon, he was talking to Houston. The Houston Chronicle echoed him with a headline: "One Giant Snub for Houston."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, decided to do more than complain. He introduced a bill -- the "Space Shuttle Retirement Act" of 2011 -- ordering that the shuttles be sent to Florida, California, suburban Washington ... and Houston. He got nine co-sponsors, five of them from Texas.
"Instead of relying on political guidance systems, these decisions must be steered by history and logic," he said in introducing the bill. "My legislation would designate the retirement home of the three space shuttles based on the location and history of the shuttles' launches, landings and mission support, the fourth based on the Smithsonian's role in preserving American artifacts."
Take that, NASA! And take that, New York!
Space History? Or National Politics?
Such bills are often symbolic, but the not-so-veiled suggestion is that NASA's management, at the behest of the Obama administration, gave the shuttles to states Obama would like to win in the 2012 election, not necessarily ones that figure in space history. "New York, we've had a problem" doesn't sound quite right.
"It's not New York, necessarily, it's the process," said Alisia Essig, a press aide to Chaffetz. "Houston had more of a role in space history than New York."
Gen. Charles Bolden, the NASA administrator, said the agency was sending the shuttles to major tourist destinations, where more people would get to see them. Houston may be steamed, but it does get steamy there in the summer.
"This was a very difficult decision, but one that was made with the American public in mind," Bolden said on Tuesday. "In the end, these choices provide the greatest number of people with the best opportunity to share in the history and accomplishments of NASA's remarkable space shuttle Program."
One NASA veteran said Houston had it coming. Wayne Hale, who was flight director for 40 shuttle flights and became the Shuttle Program Manager at NASA before his retirement, said his city had become "blase" about the shuttles.
"No disrespect to those who spearheaded the effort to bring the shuttle here, but the response was lackluster," he wrote in his blog. "The local politicians gave lip service, some weak letters to the NASA administrator and little else."
There were 16 other museums or visitor centers that made bids for the shuttles, but the ones in Ohio and Oklahoma had to concede they were long shots. NASA did announce it was giving runners-up shuttle simulators, training mockups and rocket engines.
Space Center Houston, the museum down the road from Mission Control, is getting two seats -- seats -- from a shuttle's flight deck.