- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - On a memorable day in space history, NASA began its goodbyes to the shuttle program Tuesday, announcing the aged spacecraft will retire to museums in Cape Canaveral, Los Angeles and suburban Washington and sending a test-flight orbiter to New York City.

It was an emotional day _ the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch and the 50th anniversary of man’s first journey into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Just two more shuttle flights remain, and the head of NASA choked up as he revealed the new homes for the spacecraft in an event at the Kennedy Space Center.

“For all of them, take good care of our vehicles,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said with a catch in his voice. “They served a nation well, and we at NASA have a deep and abiding relationship and love affair with them that is hard to put into words.”

The choice of homes for the spaceships _ sometimes described as the most complex machinery ever devised _ was hotly contested. Twenty-one museums and visitor centers around the country put in bids.


The winners will have to pay NASA $28.8 million for the cost of preparing and ferrying the shuttles to their new homes. Across the country, cheers erupted at the four winning facilities and groans at the locations that lost out.

After it closes out the program, shuttle Atlantis will stay in Cape Canaveral at the space center’s visitor complex, just miles from the pair of launch pads used to shoot the orbiters into space. Space center workers, some of whom are likely to lose jobs when the shuttles quit flying later this summer, gave Bolden a standing ovation and whooped and hollered with the news.

Shuttle Endeavour, which makes its last flight at the end of the month, will head to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, about 60 miles from the plant where the shuttle was assembled.

“I’m still pinching myself,” said Robert Yowell, who drove to the museum upon hearing the news. He worked as a NASA flight controller at the Johnson Space Center from 1989 to 2000. “Nobody in my circle of space geeks guessed that LA was going to get this.”

Discovery’s new home will be the Smithsonian Institution’s branch in northern Virginia near Washington Dulles International Airport. In exchange for the oldest shuttle, the Smithsonian is giving up Enterprise, a shuttle prototype used for test flights in the 1970s.

Enterprise will go to New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for display in a glass enclosure on a Manhattan pier on the Hudson River, next to the aircraft carrier that houses the museum.

Sam Folsom, 90, of New York City, an Intrepid museum volunteer and retired Marine pilot, was elated.

“It’s really important for children to actually see the shuttle, so they don’t forget the history of America’s space exploration,” he said.

But there was no celebrating among the hundreds of visitors and workers watching the announcement on television at the National Museum of the Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, the hometown of the Wright brothers.

The decision “doesn’t recognize the contributions and innovations that came from the heartland,” complained Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican.

Houston was bitterly disappointed that Johnson Space Center, home of Mission Control, would only get seats from a shuttle.

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