Still not fair
Still fuming over Houston's loss of the retired space shuttles? Well you can blame NASA Administrator Charles S. Bolden — and Houston's lack of tourists.
NASA's Office of Inspector General released a report on Thursday that examined NASA's process for selecting the sites of the four retired orbiters. After the two-year application process ended in April, the National Air and Space Museum in northern Virginia, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the California Science Center in Los Angeles were the chosen ones, along with a test vehicle going on display at New York's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum out of 29 applicants.
But many in Washington and Houston, particularly the Texas congressional delegation, cried foul at the selections and blamed political maneuvering for leaving Houston, which has been a NASA home base for decades, out in the cold.
The score of the Johnson Space Center was among the lowest, with 60 points out of a possible 105 — 20-plus points below the awarded sites and well below other locations that weren't chosen.
The report concluded that the selections were made fairly and without undue political influence. It also tells how Houston was a popular pick for a space shuttle — if only we had any tourists.
Houston was selected as a site by early committees based on its relationship with NASA, under both government-only and geo-political distribution options. But in late 2009, NASA administrator Bolden determined that the criteria for receiving a space shuttle should be how many visitors each site could attract "and thus serve NASA’s goal of expanding outreach and education efforts to spur interest in science, technology, and space exploration."
Houston has a lot of great things, but what we do not have is massive amounts of tourists. Thirteen final museums and centers were rated on a point scale with nine criteria including regional population, international access, commitment to funding and attendance, with the highest point earners selected.
The score of the Johnson Space Center was among the lowest, with 60 points out of a possible 105 — 20-plus points below the awarded sites and well below other locations that weren't chosen, like Seattle's Museum of Flight, Chicago's Adler Planetarium and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore.
It's tempting to blame Bolton for setting criteria that seemed to obviously benefit coastal tourist corridors, but Bolden himself said he wanted to give Houston a sentimental win. The report states:
In addition to deflecting pressure from politicians, Bolden told us he also put aside his personal preferences in order to make the best selections for NASA and the Nation. Bolden said that if it had been strictly a personal decision, his preference would have been to place an Orbiter in Houston. He noted that “[a]s a resident of Texas and a person who . . . spent the middle of my Marine Corps career in Houston, I would have loved to have placed an Orbiter in Houston.” However, he said he could not ignore that Space Center Houston had relatively low attendance rates and provided significantly lower international access than the locations selected.
Do you think Bolton and NASA were right to center the space shuttles around tourism, not NASA history? And are you still mad at Chuck Schumer for gloating?