Dream of riding on the Space Shuttle into space? Sorry you’re a bit late as their impending scheduled retirement ends an era. You’re options now will be to perhaps try zero gravity flights on the vomit comet as a way to experience the thrill of weightlessness without going into space or explore the commercial space opportunities that are emerging many headed by well known entrepreneurs who having made their fortune are spending them on trying to open up the next generation of space travel. From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic who will reach the edge of space to ambitious space access replacements for the shuttle such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin a handful of companies are trying to push the boundaries and lower the cost of access to space for all.
And while the space shuttle will be permanently grounded it does mean you’ll now have the opportunity to see them up close on the ground. Something that hasn’t been possible while in service, as NASA is offering the remaining three Shuttles (Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour) free to museums willing to house them for visitors to see. This has kicked off a race for institutions to bid for them, backed by intense lobbying and fundraising efforts. And although the Shuttles come free the cost of getting them to the institution and then storing them isn’t a cheap endeavour. Considering they can only be transported on a special jumbo 747, which must have access to a suitable runway close enough to the museum that the shuttle can then be moved without dismantling into an indoor climate controlled building large enough to house them. With all that is required many institutions are out of the race before it began!
It has already been decided that the oldest surviving shuttle, Discovery, will be given to the Smithsonian, whose new facility next to Dulles Airport in Virginia just outside Washington DC meets all the requirements and along with its Washington Mall museum is America’s repository of space history. The Smithsonian currently has on site the training shuttle, Enterprise, which will be given to another museum once it is replaced by Discovery. The Smithsonian is a treasure trove of air and space history and both sites are free to visit and easy to access, see their website www.nasm.si.edu for more details and also definitely don’t miss seeing the Apollo 11 command module.
And while the Smithsonian gets its Shuttle, museums around the world are still in the race for the others. Where they will end up is still up to NASA so stay tuned. We all probably remember where we were when Challenger and Columbia were destroyed in fatal accidents and the Shuttle fleet has played a large part in inspiring people to explore beyond earth so will be popular attractions once they’ve found their new homes. At least until commercial space travel has kicked off and we might be seeing the Average Joe on their way to space.
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