No shuttle coming to Dayton’s Air Force Museum

Posted on April 12, 2011

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The hopes of an entire state were dashed today as NASA announced the homes for the retiring space shuttles. Florida, California, New York, and DC get the shuttles – leaving Dayton, OH and the Air Force Museum out in the cold.

NASA Administrator Charles M. Bolden made the announcement at an afternoon press conference, tearing up and saying this had been a “rough day.” Two shuttle destinations are no surprise – the Smithsonian and Kennedy Space Center, both worthy homes for an orbiter. The other two shuttles are going to the California Science Center in Los Angeles and the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.

Local politicians were flummoxed and disappointed by the announcement:

U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Centerville and Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, called the decision a slap in the face.

“New York and L.A. don’t make a lot of sense. They didn’t make contributions to the program,” Turner said, referring to the shuttle program. “No one in the Midwest is going to have a shuttle.

“We’ll never be New York, we’ll never be Los Angeles. But we’ll always be home to the Wright Brothers, to all things aerospace,” Turner said.

Austria called the decision “a disservice to the Midwest and the Air Force,” but added “we will respect the decision and move on.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called for a federal investigation by the General Accountability Office on the site selection process.

“NASA ignored the intent of Congress and the interests of taxpayers. NASA was directed to consider regional diversity when determining shuttle locations,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, it looks like regional diversity amounts to which coast you are on, or which exit you use on I-95. Even more insulting to taxpayers is that having paid to build the shuttles, they will now be charged to see them at some sites.”

Obviously, some of this is sour grapes from people who would have gained political points if they had scored a shuttle for the region. But looking deeper, it’s hard to argue with the feeling that many in the Miami Valley and Ohio got the shaft.

The role of the Air Force in early space exploration cannot be denied, and the Air Force Museum already houses the vehicles for some of those early efforts. And as the home and workplace of the Wright brothers, Dayton seemed like a natural fit for the machine that served as the ultimate extension of the brothers’ first work into powered flight.

Unfortunately, it appears that the thing that Dayton had against it is that it’s not a major metropolitan area. I don’t agree on too much with Sen. Brown, but I think he hit the nail on the head in his comments above, and if you believe Rep. Austria’s contention that Dayton was fifth on the list (i.e. just losing out to the other contenders), then population size is clearly the deciding factor.

That’s not to say I begrudge the other musuems for winning out. No doubt they are justifiably excited and will surely be good stewards of these storied spacecraft. But as a citizen of the Miami Valley and a space enthusiast, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed and more than a little cheated over the lack of rationale offered for the choice that was ultimately made.

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Posted in: News, Science