The end of an era is rapidly approaching: Soon the skies will shake no more to Space Shuttle stacks rocketing into orbit, and the world’s first real space ship will go gently into retirement. It’s so soon, in fact, that NASA’s beginning to plan what to do with all that trillion-dollar hardware when it gets mothballed, and the Administration has sent out a request for information to this end.
The RFI seeks data from “educational institutions, science museums, and other appropriate organizations with experience in public display of space hardware and nationally-recognized historical artifacts” with a view to helping NASA decide where to place a total of two Space Shuttle Orbiters (without engines) and at least six unassembled Space Shuttle Main Engine display “kits.” The eventual owners will have to convince NASA they can appropriately display the hardware, and pay for its preparation for display and transportation to their location. So they’d better have deep pockets, since it’s the type of “gift” that’ll cost you millions.
It’s not clear which of Discovery, Atlantis or Endeavour will be in this offer–the remaining vehicle will go to the National Air and Space
Museum–but this process is inevitable. Seeing what some call the most complex machine humans have ever built sitting in a museum will be an amazing sight, tinged with sadness. At least the RFI is also seeking input on how “these assets can best be used in the broad national interest to inspire the American public and students in particular,” so that the next generation will get excited about space rocketry all over again.