Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Nasa picks shuttle retirement homes

An initial concept design for a proposed space shuttle exhibit at the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida (AP)

As the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch draws near, the focus is not so much on the past but the future: where will the shuttles wind up once the programme winds down?

Twenty-one museums and science and visitor centres around the US are vying for one of Nasa's three retiring spaceships.

They will find out on Tuesday on the 30th anniversary of Columbia's maiden voyage.

Snagging Discovery, Atlantis or Endeavour for display does not come cheap. Nasa puts the tab at 28.8 million US dollars. Consider that a bargain. Early last year, Nasa dropped the price from 42 million US dollars.

One space shuttle is already spoken for - the Smithsonian Institution is getting Discovery, Nasa's oldest and most travelled shuttle that ended its flying career last month. It will go to the National Air and Space Museum's hangar in Virginia and take the place of Enterprise, the shuttle prototype used for tests in the late 1970s.

That frees up Enterprise for another museum, so there will be three other winners - a 1-in-7 chance.

Nasa administrator Charles Bolden Jr, a former shuttle commander, is making the final decision, with input from a committee. He will announce the winners while marking the 30-year anniversary at Kennedy Space Centre, Nasa's launch and landing site, and the front-runner in the nab-a-shuttle race.

Nasa originally had four space shuttles. Challenger was destroyed during lift-off in 1986, and Endeavour was built as a replacement. Then Columbia was lost in 2003.

Columbia was the first to fly on April 12, 1981, 20 years to the day that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the world's first spaceman. Tuesday will mark the 50th anniversary of his flight.

Endeavour is set to soar late this month, and Atlantis will close out the shuttle programme with a summer lift-off.

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