Seattle's Museum of Flight breaks ground in its big bid for a space shuttle
The Museum of Flight broke ground Tuesday for a giant glass-facade building it hopes will eventually house a retired U.S. space shuttle. But whether a shuttle ever comes to Seattle remains to be seen.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Museum of Flight broke ground Tuesday for a giant glass-facade building it hopes will eventually house a retired U.S. space shuttle.
But whether a space shuttle ever comes to Seattle is uncertain.
"The shuttle is among the rarest of space artifacts," Michael Hallman, the museum's interim president, said in a news release. "The possibility of securing one is very exciting."
It's not a done deal yet, but CEO Bonnie Dunbar, who flew on five space-shuttle missions as a NASA astronaut, says she believes the South Seattle museum is one of the few that meets all the requirements.
NASA is retiring four shuttles: the Discovery, the Atlantis, the Enterprise and the Endeavour.
Discovery is going to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. More than a dozen other museums are vying for the remaining three shuttles.
Any potential home for a retired shuttle has to meet several criteria — for example, being accredited by the American Association of Museums and being one of the nation's 200-some Smithsonian Affiliates, which allows them to swap artifacts with other Smithsonian Affiliate museums.
NASA also requires that the shuttle's new home have a runway equipped to land a 250-foot-long Boeing 747, and a facility large enough to accommodate the shuttle's tall tail, roughly six stories high.
The Museum of Flight's new Space Gallery will cost an estimated $12 million, funded mostly by private donations and $3 million from the state. The building will be across the street from the museum and next to the future site of Aviation High School.
Seattle's flight museum faces some stiff competition. Also vying for a retired shuttle are Kennedy Space Center outside Orlando, where shuttles were launched, and the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, where astronauts train.
"Right now we're not really certain who's going to be the ultimate authority on selection," said Edward Renouard, a former Boeing vice president, who serves on the Museum of Flight's board of trustees.
But the Museum of Flight maintains that Seattle is the best place for a shuttle.
And if it doesn't get one? The multimillion-dollar building won't go to waste.
"We planned all along to build the building," Dunbar said, but the museum wanted to make sure it was big enough for the shuttle.
"We have a lot of artifacts that we're not showing," Renouard said. "We have a fallback."
If the museum does get a shuttle, it likely will require additional money.
NASA announced in January that each shuttle would cost $28.8 million — to cover transportation and assembly.
But, Dunbar said, "It's not a selling price."
Dunbar acknowledged that the cost is "more than our annual budget," but she was reluctant to discuss the amount further because of the uncertainty of how much NASA expects winning museums to pay for shuttle shipping and handling.
NASA couldn't be reached for comment.
Dunbar said the museum is prepared to pay for transportation and fuel costs, which is standard practice when receiving aircraft.
Despite the uncertainties, Dunbar and Renouard are sure Seattle is where a shuttle belongs.
"When it comes here, it's here forever," Dunbar said.
"There are a lot of space and aviation junkies out here," said Renouard. "I think it'll be a home run."
Lauren C. Williams: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published (June 30, 2010), was corrected (July 1, 2010). In a previous version of this story an incorrect location was given for The Kennedy Space Center. It is located off of Florida's east coast, approximately 52
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