Museum of Flight a hopeful contender for Tuesday's space shuttle decision

Apr 11, 2011

The odds are about one in seven.  That's the skinny on Seattle's bid to become a host site for one of NASA's retiring space shuttles. 

Seattle Times writer Jack Broom sums up the situation nicely in that paper's latest story on the question. Broom notes the Museum of Flight's chances were diminished slightly last week:

NASA announced Thursday that agency Chief Charles Bolden will travel to Florida's Kennedy Space Center Tuesday to announce the retirement homes of NASA's four space shuttles — sought by some two dozen museums across the country — as the program comes to an end this year.

Bolden's choice of location to make his 10 a.m. (Seattle time) announcement may be a "pretty good indicator" that the Kennedy Space Center, one of the sites competing for a shuttle, will get one, said Doug King, president and CEO of Seattle's Museum of Flight.

The Museum of Flight ( just west of Boeing field,) has been preparing for the competition at least four years now. 

This summer, it broke ground on a glass pavilion that would house one of the historic spacecraft - if the museum wins.  

Washington native has championed for a shuttle in Seattle for years

Retired astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, who grew up in the Yakima Valley area and ran the museum until recently,  spearheaded the shuttle bid. She talked about the effort during an interview with me on KPLU in 2009

Among the requirements, she says, are:

  • community involvement, "which we support a large population center"
  • a runway that will allow the 747 that carries the shuttle to land on it, "we have all of those"
  • a vibrant educational community, "which we do - we do a lot of outreach," Dunbar says.

"So, we feel we're in a good position.  It's going to be a competitive prospect on certain criteria," she adds.

Here's a link to the entire interview, which has a lot of interesting additional details and is worth five minutes of your listening time.

I especially enjoyed hearing her talk about the greater Seattle region's ties to the program, including her own personal history (which she insists won't play much of a role in the bid - but the other items could be important, she thinks.)

She says she  "was very fortunate," as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, to work on some of the design of the shuttle as a student.  Also:

  • Many of the faculty at the UW have worked on the shuttle. 
  • We have companies here, who helped build the shuttle. 
  • The chief engineer on the shuttle was a university of Washington graduate. 

"So we have a real stake in this and of course, Boeing now operates both the shuttle and the international space station," she says.  "From just an iconic point of view, we'd want it anyway. But the fact that we have some real linkages to this region I think's important."

The space shuttle Discovery has already been offered to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. 

The other three are up for grabs:  Enterprise, Endeavor and Atlantis.  All told, there are more than 20 bidders.  Artists' renderings of several of them, including the Museum of Flight's design, can be seen in a post on CollectSPACE.com news.

According to some observers, Seattle's chances might be bolstered by our strong tourism ties to Asia and as one of only 3 west coast locations bidding. The other two are the picturesque Evergreen Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (near the Tillamook cheese factories) and the US Air Force's Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA, where the space shuttles were originally assembled.

Opponents say we can't afford it

But there are plenty of people in the Northwest hoping we don't get the bid, because of the cost to bring the shuttle here - which must be raised in private donations and - as of two years ago - must also be paid for by Washington state taxpayers.

"I can think of lots of other things $42 million could go toward right now. And a shuttle to the MOF is not one of them," writes 'galvinace' of Kirkland in comments on the Seattle Times' site.

In any case, it's a big day at the Museum of Flight, celebrating the history of space travel.  Visitors can take part in a several activities marking the 50th anniversary of human space travel. The announcement is also timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia's maiden voyage.