From the Orlando Sentinel.......
When space shuttle Atlantis returns from its final mission in July, it's coming home to stay at Kennedy Space Center.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made the announcement that the Visitors Center here will get to keep and display Atlantis for visitors and for the thousands of KSC workers who spent their careers launching the shuttles into orbit over the past three decades.
As expected, KSC won a nationwide sweepstakes to keep one of the three remaining active shuttles that have been the backbone of America's space program since 1981. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Brevard County, had pushed hard to keep Atlantis, on which both he and Bolden flew into orbit in 1986, in his political backyard.
Bolden brought the good news to more than 500 cheering NASA officials and rank-and-file employees gathered outside KSC's orbiter maintenance facility – where Atlantis is being prepared for its final mission -- for a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch. The announcement was preceeded by a 15-minute video about the shuttle, the most complex machine ever built, narrated by William Shatner, and congratulations from the six crew members aboard the International Space Station.
As expected, Bolden also announced that shuttle Discovery will go to the Smithsonian Institution's Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. The Smithsonian in turn will give up Enterprise, a full-scale shuttle mockup that never made it into orbit, which will go to New York City, to be displayed on board the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid.
Endeavour, the final active shuttle, will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles..
The idea of Kennedy keeping at least one shuttle was obvoius to everyone who gathered, since Bolden was making the announcement here. Before he even got the words out of his mouth, the NASA employees erupted into applause. As Bolden went from surprise to laughter to tears, the crowd stood in ovation.
Bolden's emotional swing reflected not only the joy in the gathering but his own personal experiences, as an astronaut and colleague of 14 astronauts lost with in program's two disasters, involving Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. His voice broke as he recalled them as friends.
His emotions also reflected the political stress he faced in the decisions.
"You have idea what that applause means to me," he said. "It's been a rough day."
At least 17 other cities had applied for a shuttle and lost – including Houston, home of Johnson Space Center where astronauts train and where Mission Control takes over operation of shuttle missions once they enter orbit. Texans weren't happy.
"It is sad and unfortunate that politics played such an obvious role in the placement of theses retiring orbiters," said a clearly angry U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas. "The thought of an orbiter not coming home to rest at Space Center Houston is truly tragic. It is analogous to Detroit without a Model-T, or Florence without a da Vinci."
Even before the announcement, Texans – who are predominantly Republican – had accused the Democratic administration of Barack Obama of playing politics in deciding where to send the orbiters.
The award is a moral and morale victory for the Space Coast, but also a reminder of times past. The area is losing more than 7,000 jobs with the retirement of the shuttle program later this year, and NASA has no firm plans established for a successor program. One thing is certain: NASA is unlikely to launch any manned space flights from Kennedy for at least seven more years.
Endeavour is set to launch April 29 on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station. When it returns it will undergo the usual post-mission processing, then go through a clean-up to rid it of toxic fuels and other chemicals so that it's suitable for public display. Discovery is already in that process.
Atlantis will complete the shuttle program with its final mission, currently set for a late-June launch.
The sweepstakes entry wasn't cheap. Minimum cost for getting one of the orbiters: $28.8 million, to help pay for the preparation and transportation of the orbiter to winning museums. That does not include money the museums must spend to display the shuttles. The KSC visitors center intends to put together a display showing the shuttle as if it were flying in space.