Even as Endeavour returned to Kennedy Space Center last week, NASA announced plans to move the orbiter fleet to museums for public display following retirement in 2010.
All three orbiters–the most sophisticated flying machines ever built–deserve a dedicated display “hangar” and easy public access. My guess is that one (probably Atlantis) will wind up at the Smithsonian’s Udvar Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum, near Dulles Airport, VA. Discovery, because of its record of multiple Department of Defense missions, might head for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Endeavour would be ideally suited for a West Coast location, given the huge population base in California and the excellent aviation and space museums in San Diego and Seattle. Enterprise might be a candidate for either Houston’s Johnson Space Center or Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
One thing is certain: people in one location or another are going to be unhappy that a shuttle does NOT come to their town. The competition is already underway, with a British group stating its intentions to bring an orbiter to London in 2010. Civic officials in Houston and Florida are also laying the groundwork for display space and the fundraising of the roughly $42 million NASA says it will cost to prepare and transport anorbiter to a given destination.
I had long hoped to visit Columbia–my ship–at its future home at the National Air & Space Museum. That dream was dashed with the loss of the first space shuttle in 2003. Wherever my other two ships wind up — I will be visiting (I think I still have a key)!