The launching and landing of space shuttles has always been a fairly coastal affair: The shuttles take off from Florida and almost always touch down in Florida or California. (Once, in 1982, a shuttle landed at New Mexico's White Sands Space Harbor.) NASA is continuing that coastal tradition with the placement of its retired and retiring shuttles, whose final homes were announced April 12. The three shuttles will be displayed in Florida, Los Angeles and Virginia, and a test-flight shuttle that never reached orbit will go to New York City.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden unveiled the selections at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Bolden, himself a former astronaut, called the space shuttle "one of the most amazing technological marvels of all time." He added that its significance would become even more apparent after the program is phased out later this year, leaving the U.S. without a means to launch astronauts or large payloads into orbit.
Bolden announced that Kennedy, the starting point for shuttle journeys, will receive the Atlantis orbiter after it completes its final flight—and the final mission of the shuttle program—in June. Bolden's announcement was greeted by loud cheers and applause at the center.
The Endeavour orbiter, which is scheduled to launch on its final mission April 29, will then head to the California Science Center in Los Angeles for display.
Discovery, the oldest and most-utilized shuttle in the fleet and the first to enter retirement following a March 9 landing, will go to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) as had been widely expected. The orbiter will replace the Enterprise test shuttle, which was used for atmospheric and landing tests but never for spaceflight, already on display at the NASM's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., outside Washington, D.C.
Enterprise, Bolden announced, will head north to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.
The chosen locations will no doubt rankle many organizations in the middle of the country that contributed heavily to the space shuttle program, not least NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to Mission Control. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio was also angling for an orbiter, citing a long history of cooperation on the shuttle program with NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. Bolden said that although there were not enough shuttles to go around, other interested sites would receive hardware and artifacts from the program.
The announcements came on a date rich in spaceflight history. April 12 is the 30th anniversary of the maiden shuttle flight, STS 1, and the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's 1961 orbital trip on Vostok 1.