WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on Tuesday will end years of speculation — and no small amount of lobbying — when he announces which U.S. museums and tourist attractions will get a space shuttle once the space agency retires the fleet this summer.
Because Bolden plans to pick the four winners at Kennedy Space Center, where he’ll be attending a 30th anniversary celebration of the shuttle’s first mission, it’s expected Florida will get one — likely Atlantis or Endeavour.
“It seems unreasonable to think that Mr. Bolden would come to Florida to deliver bad news,” said Titusville Mayor Jim Tulley. “To not put one here would almost be a slap in the face to all the people here who worked (on the shuttle).”
With the Smithsonian Institution slated to land Discovery, and in return give up Enterprise (a test model that never reached orbit), that leaves just two shuttles for 19 remaining applicants.
The choices will likely come down to Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle and Dayton, Ohio, according to congressional, industry and administration sources who say a location’s ability to draw tourists will be a key criterion.
Sources say that Texas likely will miss out — even though Houston is home to the Johnson Space Center, which houses both astronaut-training facilities and Mission Control.
“If Texas does not get an orbiter, this is a less-than-subtle message from the White House that politics matters more than history,” grumbled an aide to one Texas lawmaker, who is not authorized to speak on the record.
Cities nationwide have been jockeying for the shuttles since at least 2008, when NASA initially offered the orbiters for $42 million each, a price that dropped to $28.8 million in 2010.
The rivalry spilled over into Congress, where lawmakers often used NASA hearings to tout their home states. Ohio lawmakers even inserted $14 million into the Air Force’s proposed 2012 budget to help prepare for an orbiter at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.
In Florida, expectations are high enough that officials at the KSC Visitor Center already have drawn up plans for how they would display one of the 122-foot-long orbiters.
Spokeswoman Andrea Farmer said the concept was to exhibit a shuttle “as it would be (seen) working in space” and to avoid cleaning it so visitors could see the wear-and-tear of space travel.
“It shows that spaceflight is not easy, it’s tough,” she said, adding that the complex also plans to invite KSC workers to share their experiences.
“It’s important to tell the space shuttle story, but also the work force behind it,” she said. “We have thousands of people who cared for these orbiters like a member of the family.”
Snagging a shuttle would be a bittersweet victory for Florida’s Space Coast, which faces an economic crisis when an estimated 7,000 shuttle workers lose their jobs after the final shuttle flight, an Atlantis launch planned for June 28.
NASA has no rocket ready to replace the shuttle.
“The addition of an Orbiter to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center would provide a much needed boost for both the morale of the work force and the economy of the area,” wrote U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to Bolden last month.
The two men flew together aboard Atlantis in 1986, and Nelson championed Bolden’s rise to NASA chief.