The End of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program Has one Plus for Columbus

Endeavour lifts off at Kennedy Space Flight Center, last night launch, 2/8/2010 (Photo courtesy: NASA/Jim Grossmann)

The ending of NASA’s space shuttle program this year is going to cause a lot of problems for a lot of people.  However, something good will come of it for our area. The Coca-Cola Space Science Center will be given $17 million worth of shuttle artifacts.

Yes, one of Columbus’ great tourist attractions will be even more attractive.  Everything about the space shuttle in the Coca-Cola Space Science Center is a replica. 

Space capsule replica, Coca-Cola Space Science Center, Columbus State University, Columbus, Georgia

 The  space capsule, the space shuttle, the  NASA control room are all replicas.  Even so, it is a very entertaining and educational place to visit.  However, with the announcement that the Omisphere Director Lance Tankersley’s application to NASA for actual shuttle launch artifacts was granted,  the Center will able to offer the real thing for some shuttle launch  hardware.

NASA has agreed to give $17 million worth of artifacts to the Coca-Cola Space Science Center.  That doesn’t mean the Center won’t have to pay anything.  It is going to have to ante up the money  to go pick  up the artifacts, which will entail trips to Cape Canaveral, Florida; Houston, Texas; and California where the  artifacts are located.

Some of the  artifacts are so  large that  they will require large semi’s to pick  up. For instance, the leading edge of a shuttle wing is 49-feet long. A piece of engine nozzle weighs 4300 pounds.  Also among the artifacts will be an on-board computer, a launch-pad escape basket, a launch control room biomedical console, a shuttle tire, a tool box and a shuttle window.

Since there is not enough  room in the Space Center to display all of these items,  the facility will have to decide how to do it. It probably will  require new construction.  Fortunately, they have until 2011 to work it out. The  artifacts won’t be available until then.

NASA guests watch Endeavour's launch at the Kennedy Space Center (Photo courtesy; NASA- Paul E. Alers)

After September, there will be no more American shuttle trips into orbits to do things like repairing a Hubble Space telescope or go to the International Space Station.  To get to the space station we’ll have to hitch a ride with the Russians since they will still be sending Soyuz shuttles up.  What if relations between the countries sour?  What will we do then?  Who knows, maybe China or Japan will have shuttles operating by then. 

What does the future hold for America’s space program?  Privatization is the buzz word.  It’s already started as NASA has contracted with private firms for some space hardware.  The next step is for private firms to build the rockets and future shuttles that will ride them.  The whole thing is up in the air (no pun intended) because Congress has dramatically cut funding for the space program, and future cuts could be coming. 

Meanwhile, the end of the shuttle program has economic fallout that affects non-governmental elements. For instance, there will be devastation of communities around the Kennedy Space Station on Cape Canaveral that depend on the tourism that space launches provide.  They are going to lose millions when people stop coming because there will be no more shuttle launches. 

We were going to go back to the moon.  That idea has been scrapped.  It’s incredably expensive, especially now during the current budget crisis. Besides, we’ve already done it.  What would be the benefit? I guess no one has answered those questions to Congress’ satisfaction. 

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Crew: From left are Robert Behnken, Commander George Zamka, pilot Terry Virts, Kathryn Hire, Nicholas Patrick and Stephen Robinson. NASA says, "The primary payload on STS-130 is the International Space Station's Node 3, Tranquility, a pressurized module that will provide room for many of the station's life support systems." (Photo courtesy: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

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