After 30 years of spaceflight, more than 130 missions and numerous science and technology firsts, NASA's space shuttle fleet will retire and be on display at institutions across the country, the space agency's administrator Charles Bolden said on April 13. Bolden announced the facilities where four shuttle orbiters will be displayed permanently at the conclusion of the space shuttle program: the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, the California Science Center in Los Angeles and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex in Florida.
Shuttle Enterprise, the first orbiter built, will move from the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia to its new location in New York, while the Udvar-Hazy Center will become the new home for shuttle Discovery, which retired after completing its 39th mission in March. Shuttle Endeavour, which is preparing for its final flight at the end of the month, will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Shuttle Atlantis, which will fly the last planned shuttle mission in June, will be displayed at the Kennedy visitor's center.
"We want to thank all of the locations that expressed an interest in one of these national treasures," Bolden said. "This was a very difficult decision, but one that was made with the American public in mind. 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. These facilities we've chosen have a noteworthy legacy of preserving space artifacts and providing outstanding access to U.S. and international visitors."
NASA also announced that hundreds of shuttle artifacts have been allocated to museums and education institutions. Various shuttle simulators are planned to be delivered to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum of McMinnville, Ore., and Texas A&M's Aerospace Engineering Department. A full fuselage trainer will find a home at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, a nose cap assembly and crew compartment trainer will wind up at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
In addition, flight deck pilot and commander seats will go to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, while orbital maneuvering system engines are to be put on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center of Huntsville, Ala., National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. April 12 marked the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch.
The loss of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia were the two highest-profile accidents in NASA's history. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster: The spacecraft disintegrated shortly after launch when a booster engine failed. The accident claimed the lives of all crewmembers, including Christa McAuliffe, the first candidate for NASA's Teacher in Space program.
The seven-member crew of Columbia was just 16 minutes from landing on the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, when Mission Control lost contact with the shuttle. A piece of foam falling from the external tank during launch, which opened up a hole in one of the shuttle's wings, was determined to be the cause of the accident.