UPDATE: Political Pressure Ramps Up On Shuttle Orbiter Disposition Decision

UPDATE: Political Pressure Ramps Up On Shuttle Orbiter Disposition Decision

UPDATE: The story has been updated to add information about objections from the Texas congressional delegation, and two bills that have been introduced.

During a media teleconference this afternoon, NASA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Strategic Infrastructure, Olga Dominguez, said that she had been “isolated” from political pressure as the lead person in recommending to NASA Administrator Bolden the disposition of the four space shuttle orbiters. That may change. Five members of the Ohio congressional delegation are calling for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of how the locations — three on the east coast, one on the west coast, none in the center of the country — were chosen.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D – OH) blasted the decision not to pick Ohio’s National Air Force Museum in Dayton. “NASA ignored the intent of Congress … to consider regional diversity when determining shuttle locations,” he said in a press statement.

In a letter to the head of GAO, Brown and four Ohio Representatives — Marcy Kaptur, Michael Turner, Steve Austria, and Steve LaTourette –asked for a “review of the policies and practices” of NASA and the Smithsonian Institution’s “disposition of the shuttle program related property.” The letter cites language in the 2008 and 2010 NASA Authorization Acts stipulating how the process was to be carried out. During the media teleconference, Ms. Rodriguez emphasized that the process did, indeed, comply with those laws.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) near Houston also was not one of the winners. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) expressed “deep disappointment” and noted that the law directed NASA to give priority to locations with strong historical ties to NASA. “It is unthinkable that the home of human space flight would not represent the ideal home for a retired orbiter,” she said. Mike Coats, Director of JSC and a former astronaut, said that he was “personally disappointed,” but “Regardless of today’s outcome, JSC … will continue to share the excitement of human spaceflight for decades to come.”

Seventeen members of the Texas delegation in the House wrote a letter to Mr. Bolden asking pointed questions about the decision to move Enterprise to the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space museum in New York City. The upshot was that if the questions are not answered satisfactorily, they will “do everything in our power in Congress, including legislation to prevent the transfer” of the Enterprise to New York, which, as they stress, is only “224 miles” from the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center where it is currently displayed. They want it transferred to Houston, instead.

Rep. Shiela Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) each introduced legislation last week regarding the disposition of the space shuttles, the texts of which are not yet available. Rep. Chaffetz introduced H.R. 1536 on April 14, and Rep. Jackson-Lee introduced H.R. 1590 on April 15.

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