NEW YORK ? The Big Apple has set its sights set on one of NASA?s space shuttles with hopes of snagging one of the iconic space planes for permanent display aboard an aircraft carrier-turned-museum.
Elected officials are now throwing their weight behind space-minded citizens and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to reserve one of NASA?s three aging space shuttles once they are retired from spaceflight later this year.
?I can think of no better place to showcase the space program and America?s innovation to the world than New York,? said Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who is based here in Manhattan. ?As America?s most cosmopolitan city, New York would be the perfect venue to display this iconic spacecraft.?
On Sunday, U.S. senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) stopped by the Intrepid museum to pledge their support for obtaining a NASA space shuttle.
The museum has launched on-site and online campaigns to gather signatures of support for its space shuttle bid. So far, the campaign has collected about 25,000 signatures to display a shuttle in New York City.
?Locating a shuttle at the Intrepid has been called a ?no-brainer? ? and we couldn?t agree more,? said Intrepid museum president Bill White in a statement. ?With millions of American and foreign tourists visiting New York City every year, putting a shuttle at the Intrepid would create an ideal platform to share our national pride in our space program with the entire world, pay tribute to the men and women who have played a role in our greatest technological achievement, and provide an opportunity to educate future generations on the exploration of space.?
New York loves shuttles
Basing a shuttle at the Intrepid would generate up to $71 million each year in direct spending for New York City, as well as a total of $106 million per year in new economic activity, museum officials said. It would allow more than 50 million residents and tourists a year to see the American spacecraft, they added.
NASA has three space shuttles ? Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour ? with the Discovery orbiter slated to blast off from Florida on April 5 to deliver supplies, science experiments and spare parts to the International Space Station.
The space agency plans to retire its three-orbiter fleet at the end of September after four final shuttle flights to complete construction of the $100 billion space station. The station, a product of 16 different countries, has been under assembly since 1998.
Once those final flights are complete, the space shuttles will be up for grabs for interested museums in the United States [space shuttle photos].
Discovery, the oldest of NASA?s shuttles, has been promised to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., which leaves the two youngest available for other institutions. Discovery will replace the test shuttle Enterprise, which has been on exhibit in the Smithsonian?s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex in Chantilly, Va., since 2003.
Earlier this year, NASA lowered the price of its museum-bound space shuttles from $42 million to $28.2 million. The price cut was aimed at releasing museums from the cost of safeguarding the spacecraft so that they can be safely exhibited.
NASA is expected to announce the final retirement home for Atlantis and Endeavour no earlier than July 2010. There are more than 20 institutions vying to secure those shuttles, Intrepid museum officials said.
No stranger to spaceflight
The Intrepid has close ties to NASA?s human spaceflight program, which could give it an edge, museum officials said.
In the 1960s, it served as the prime recovery ship for the Mercury 7 flight by astronaut Scott Carpenter, as well as the Gemini 3 mission flown by astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young.
The museum is already home to numerous aircraft, including an A-12 Blackbird (a relative of the SR-71 Blackbird) and a British Airways Concorde, a supersonic passenger jet.
This month, the museum also hosted legendary former astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human ever to walk on the moon, during a welcome-home ceremony from an overseas trip with other pilot legends to boost the morale of deployed U.S. troops.
Armstrong?s arrival was delayed a day due to bad weather, but that didn?t stop nearly 2,000 attendees from waving signs with slogans such as "Bring the Shuttle 2 the Big Apple? and ?NY [hearts] Shuttle.?
Among the attendees at the Armstrong events on March 13 and 14 was a group of Cub Scouts from Pack 206 in Westchester, N.Y., eager to see a real space shuttle inside the cavernous hangar bay of the Intrepid museum.
?You would get to see a machine that really travels in space,? Lucas Shriver, age 8, told SPACE.com.
Shriver?s fellow scout Van Strahl, also 8 years old, added that he wanted to see a shuttle in flight.
?I would love to see it just land,? he said.
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