I love flying, and even though I’ve never gotten beyond piloting a Cessna 206, every time I get into the plane I am thrilled. I can almost taste what it’s like to “boldly go,” as they said on Star Trek, and pass into the inky blackness of space. I really wish I could go with them. But here we are, fifty years to the day that Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin ushered in the era of spaceflight for humankind, and thirty years since the first shuttle flight, and I haven’t yet been picked for a spaceflight. Maybe next time!
While we celebrate those moments in history, it’s also a bittersweet day for us. Our own Museum of Flight wasn’t selected to house one of the retired space shuttle orbiters. There’s no doubt that NASA had a difficult task– there were 28 other institutions vying for the chance to display an important part of America’s space exploration history in their galleries. Nonetheless, I believe that Seattle would love and appreciate a shuttle more than most.
One of the most important criteria was that the eventual home of each orbiter had to feature a strong educational program that could benefit from an addition like a shuttle. To my mind, we’ve got just that program. With a comprehensive outreach program that covers five states, the Museum of Flight reaches over 140,000 school kids every year. Maybe one of those prospective astronauts will become the next great space explorer, joining the 26 astronauts that Washington State already boasts.
We do have a consolation prize. The Space Gallery currently under construction at the Museum of Flight will be a tremendous draw when it opens. It will include immersive exhibits throughout, but the focal point will no doubt be the shuttle full-fuselage trainer. It’s an exact replica of an actual shuttle, just without wings, and it’s where all shuttle astronauts trained before heading into space. When the shuttle program is discontinued, the Johnson Space Center will send it to Seattle.
I sent my congratulations to the final destinations of the shuttles. Atlantis will be a part of Kennedy Space Center and Endeavour will end up at California Science Center in Los Angeles. The Enterprise will be on display at the Intrepid Space Museum in New York, and Discovery will land at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
I want to thank the Museum of Flight staff, the board of directors, and five-time astronaut Dr. Bonnie Dunbar. Your efforts to secure the shuttle are to be commended. Nearly half a million people come through the museum doors every year, and your work continues to highlight the historical and economic value of the aerospace industry in the Northwest while inspiring a new generation of explorers to “boldly go.”