CAPE CANAVERAL -- "Keep one here."
That's the rally cry of a grass-roots group that launched a bid Thursday to make certain that either Atlantis, Discovery or Endeavour roosts in retirement at Kennedy Space Center.
NASA is under direction to shut down its shuttle fleet by September 2010, and museums nationwide are aiming to display one of the agency's three winged spaceships.
The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., likely will have first dibs. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, is expected to compete, too.
So is The Museum of Flight in Seattle and perhaps NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, Ala., not to mention the city of Palmdale, Calif., where the orbiters were built.
"It's clear that everyone thinks it would be an absolute sin if we did not have a space shuttle here for display," said Jim Banke, an aerospace industry veteran from Melbourne who is organizing the local effort. "And we absolutely cannot take for granted that we are going to get one. We can't just assume that one of them is automatically ours."
In December, NASA released a notice to gauge interest from educational institutions and science museums. The agency said it would cost organizations an estimated $42 million to ready an orbiter for display.
NASA said it would cost $28.2 million to "safe" a spaceship, or take an orbiter out of service and remove toxic propellants. Also, $8 million would be required to spruce up a ship for display. And it would cost $5.8 million to ferry an orbiter to its retirement home.
Former KSC directors Jay Honeycutt, Jim Kennedy and Bob Crippen - the latter a former astronaut who piloted Columbia on its maiden voyage in 1981 - are involved in the bid to bring one of the birds to a final perch at KSC.
NASA officials at KSC will submit a proposal by March 17, and the group will meet in mid-February to form a publicity campaign.
The idea is to display an orbiter at the KSC Visitor Complex, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Florida. "We think that we've got a nice place to display the shuttle and to tell the story of the shuttle program," said Lisa Malone, director of external relations at KSC. "It's an important story to tell, and it makes sense to have one of the orbiters at the launch site."
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