Blue State Politics Affects Shuttle Site Selection
by David H. Landon
In the immortal words of Joe Jacobs, the iconic boxing manager for Max Schmeling, “We was robbed!”
It should have been an easy decision for NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. The National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was one of 21 sites considered for receiving one of the four retiring space shuttles, and by any objective standard it should have been a lock. Instead, last week we learned that Dayton placed fifth and will not receive one. Instead, the shuttles will go to New York City, Los Angeles, the Washington D.C. Metro area and the Kennedy Space Center.
The selection of the Kennedy Space Center for the retiring space shuttle Atlantis is an obvious choice, and is both well-deserved and makes sense. After Atlantis, all the decisions look political and are an insult to the letter and the spirit of the selection process as outlined by Congress. At the end of the day, the Air Force Museum in Dayton, with its many contributions to manned flight and storied traditions in aviation, was no match for blue state politics.
The NASA plan on how to dispose of the retired shuttles was affirmed by Congress in the National Aeronautics and Space Authorization Act of 2010. That act directs NASA in making its decision on awarding the sites to consider regional diversity and educational value. The law also indicated that equipment declared surplus to the agency’s needs should be offered first to other federal agencies, including the Defense Department, before they can be offered to any entity outside the federal government. The U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB was the only Department of Defense entity making a bid.
The shuttle Discovery is going to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, but not to the museum in the heart of the Smithsonian complex on the District of Columbia’s National Mall. Instead it will be displayed 26 miles away at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport. It’s unclear if they plan to ever move the shuttle to the Smithsonian complex in D.C. where it would be more easily accessible for visitors. In the meantime, visitors hoping to visit the shuttle will have to fight the traffic around the Washington Dulles airport to catch a glimpse.
The Enterprise was awarded to that well-known bastion of cutting-edge aviation leadership, New York City. The shuttle will be parked in a glass enclosure and perched on Pier 86 on the Hudson River, beside the aircraft carrier Intrepid. Last year, although located in the heart of New York City, the Intrepid drew only 770,000 visitors. By comparison, the Dayton Air Force Museum welcomed over 1.3 million visitors and more than 145,000 children and adults participated in nearly 1,200 educational activities. I’ve been to the Intrepid Sea and Air Museum. It’s not even in the same league with the Air Force Museum. And when is the last time you tried to find parking in midtown Manhattan?
The shuttle Endeavor was awarded to Los Angeles and the California Science Center (CSC). Although there are certainly some aerospace industries located in southern California, many states can make that claim. I guess if making movies about aviation and flying were part of the decision-making criteria, the Los Angeles/ Hollywood connection would make them a lock. But of course that’s not part of the criteria. The California Science Center, which is only 12 years old, does not focus on aviation. The shuttle will be on display beside some lame eco-system exhibit. This is not a space and aviation museum. And to park at the CSC you will have to pay $8 per car and $25 per bus.
What makes the USAFM such a strong choice? The U.S. Air Force Museum is in the Mid-west which addresses the regional diversity criteria. We are within a one-day drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population. Dayton is an aviation enthusiast’s dream. We are the home of the Wright brothers, who invented manned flight and got this whole thing started. The 1,200+ educational programs at the state-of-the-art USAFM are unsurpassed by any aviation museum in the world. Our admission and parking are free. The Air Force Museum is a collaborative effort with the Dayton community where, in 2009, more than 450 volunteers contributed 96,336 hours of time to the operation of the museum. With nearly 80,000 artifacts, this is one cool museum.
With all this going for us, how did NASA screw this one up? Local congressional leaders Mike Turner and Steve Austria, as well as U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown are asking this same question. Brown has asked for an investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to determine if politics influenced the decision of Bolden and the selection committee. Four retiring shuttles … four costal cities (effectively thumbing their NASA nose at the fly-over parts of the country) … four blue state Democratic Senators from New York and California … and the absolute ignorance of the congressional selection criteria; yes, I think it’s safe to say blue state politics were involved. And the final decision is by a man (Bolden) who last summer stated that upon order of the president, his foremost mission as the head of NASA was to improve relations with the Muslim world. With all due respect to my Muslim friends, that is not the mission of NASA. With President Obama at the head, NASA has obviously lost its true mission: expanding man’s knowledge of space. Otherwise, the Air Force Museum would be welcoming one of those four shuttles.
David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@daytoncitypaper.com