The Mislocation of the Shuttle   2 comments

Enterprise at Udvar-HazyI’ve seen the Space Shuttle Enterprise three times in my life. It was at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans, Louisiana, which I went to twice (once with my family, once with school). As a space junkie, it was a thrill to stand in the presence of the object of my affection. Seven years earlier, I had watched it fly in the Approach and Landing Tests, something I remember to this day. ON a business trip a few years ago, I saw it again at the Udvar-Hazy Center. It was as if the sense of wonder I felt in grade school had never left.

When they announced the retirement of the Shuttle, I had hoped that one of these magnificent spacecraft would be given to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It made a lot of sense: the USAF provided a lot of logistical and technical support to the program, and the shuttle flew a variety of military missions. The museum is centrally located in the country, and it totally free to the public–even Udvar-Hazy (who charges for parking) can’t say that. It seemed like a great place to display an artifact.

Unfortunately, they were not awarded one. Discovery replaces Enterprise in Washington. This made sense, as the Smithsonian is the place to display our country’s heritage. The site of shuttle launches, the Kennedy Space Center, was a natural location for a shuttle–Atlantis will be displayed there. Edwards Air Force Base, the site of the Approach and Landing Tests, is not well suited for a public display, but the California Science Center, in Los Angeles, is nearby, and puts an orbiter on the West Coast. I would have thought Enterprise should go there (as that’s where it actually flew), but Endeavor will be calling it home. Fair enough.

So, the orbiters has a fair geographic distribution, and the locations either have clear ties to the shuttle program or are sites of our national heritage. The National Museum of the United States Air Force would have complimented that well. Instead, the Enterprise is destined for the Intrepid Museum in New York City. I have several problems with this. First, it does not compliment the geographic distribution of these artifacts–Washington, DC is only a four-and-a-half hour drive from New York. So, the shuttles are collected on the coasts. Further, the Intrepid has no connection to the shuttle program, and a tenuous connection to the space program as a whole. The shuttle is not a carrier based aircraft–it does not make logical sense.

Oxcart BellyI’m also concerned about the Intrepid Museum’s ability to care for artifacts. As you may know, I’m a huge fan of the Blackbird family of aircraft–the A-12, SR-71, YF-12, and D-21. The Intrepid Museum has an A-12, Archangel 122. This was a political decision, with Archangel 122 redirected from another museum to whom it was already promised. There are many concerns around this decision.

First, it is displayed on an aircraft carrier. The OXCART was never a carrier based aircraft. The display itself is a minor complaint–military aircraft are displayed in a variety of settings. However, the titanium skin of the A-12 is not suited for display on an aircraft carrier, where, in New York, it is exposed to snow, hurricanes, and salt water. So, beyond the historical context of the display, it poses risk to the condition of the aircraft.

There are indications that the Intrepid Museum has not done a good job caring for this artifact. Graffiti accumulated, and not taken the steps needed to care for it, including regular washings with distilled water. Ideally, it should be inside, especially in the harsh environment where the Intrepid sits. Rather than protect it, they allowed a golf ball to be hit off of it for a movie.

Granted, other sites have OXCARTs outside. However, the sum of this–the harsher conditions and care, seem worse. One commentator said they could not think of a worse place to put such an aircraft. For example, the Battleship USS Alabama museum has an A-12 that was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, in spite of an indoor location among other military aircraft. Through tireless work, they have restored it as though it was new.

Will the Intrepid Museum be able to care for Enterprise any better than Archangel 122? I hope so. As noted, I’m already disappointed that a museum that had stronger ties to the program and expand the potential for taxpayers to see their investment was turned down in favor of the Intrepid Museum. It would be sad if it also meant Enterprise did not receive the best possible care. Unfortunately, watching its delivery in New York this week, there is little to be done but hope the best possible care is given.

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Posted 2012-04-28 by Mr. Guilt in Aircraft, rant

2 responses to “The Mislocation of the Shuttle

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  1. That’s discouraging that Enterprise may not be as well cared for as it should be. All we can do is hope, I guess.
    The photos of Enterprise being flown over and around New York were so very inspiring and beautiful.
    Maybe they could bring her inland further at a future time. You are right about all of the shuttles being on the coast. What about us mid-America folks!

  2. Pingback: Crew Compartment Trainer « Mr. Guilt's Blog

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