A closer look at Houston's shuttle snub


Last week, NASA said the decision to keep a shuttle from Houston was OK. But reporter Ted Oberg dug deeper to put it In Focus, and he found some who say the decision didn't follow the law or worse.

With American astronauts sitting on the ground without a way to space, all of America's space shuttles are getting picked over, going from work horses of the American space program to show ponies for museums in four cities across America -- none in Houston.

After NASA's own investigator researched the process, we looked closer.

These days NASA is dismantling the once great shuttles, getting them ready to hang in museums all over the country -- except in the one museum many of us Houstonians think it should be.

When he announced the placements, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said was a tough choice.

"You have no idea what that applause means; it's been a rough day," said Bolden, back in April.

But after looking at how the decision was made, there are some wondering if the hardest part was how to make sure Houston was left out.

When we asked Rep. Pete Olson if it almost seems personal between Bolden and Houston, the Congressman responded, "Unfortunately, it's gotten to that point."

When the process started, Mike Griffin was NASA's boss. He told us, "I'd have sent a shuttle to KSC, MSFC, and JSC. In the absence of political considerations, it is not a difficult decision."

After Griffin left NASA, something -- whether politics or personalities -- got in the mix and Houston was shut out.

NASA's Inspector General signed off on the process, but Rep. Olson who represents Johnson Space Center, told us he's not convinced it was completely in line with the law.

"I think he ignored it," Rep. Olson said.

He told us he made sure NASA's 2010 budget bill included language forcing the agency to award orbiters to cities that had "an historical relationship with... the space shuttle."

Sounds like Houston would be a lock.

But a senator from West Virginia opened the door to New York City, adding a phrase allowing the consideration of relationships "to the retrieval of NASA manned space vehicles."

And bye-bye shuttle.

The shuttle Intrepid, now docked in New York, picked up the crews of a Mercury capsule in 1962 and Gemini 3 in 1965. To Bolden, that apparently satisfied Congress' intent.

"It was definitely my decision," Bolden said.

He awarded the shuttles using a point system that gave no points for connection to space despite its inclusion in the law. But gave 20 percent of all points to international access -- meaning how many international tourists could see the shuttle. That's nowhere in the law.

"He essentially said, 'I care more about foreign tourists than I do about the community who built the shuttle,'" said Rep. Olson.

Even though we specifically asked why, NASA didn't answer. And on the one chance we had to ask Bolden about it, he pushed us back to Space Center Houston.

"Go back to the folks at home and ask them what they got from their debrief," said Bolden.

They told us they didn't get answers either. In fact, Space Center Houston was never asked how many international visitors they get and two of the winning sites -- New York and California -- don't even record where visitors are from.

NASA awarded points based on the fact that foreigners come to Orlando, New York City and Los Angeles. Space Center Houston says they were never told 10 percent of points would be given for museum accreditation and that they would've gotten it if necessary.

And when it comes to the risk of transporting the shuttle, Houston lost points too. Apparently NASA thinks driving a shuttle eight miles down the road from Kennedy Space Center is just as easy as flying it 1,100 miles to New York City and ferrying it another 14 miles.

Correct those inconsistencies and Houston ties with New York in NASA's scoring. Consider a connection to space and we're ahead.

"It's illogical, irrational and quite frankly un-American," said Rep. Olson.

Space Center Houston didn't get an orbiter, buy they told us they have been allocated the following items (as of August 30):

  • Gulfstream G-II, Shuttle Trainer Aircraft (STA)
  • Shuttle Avionics integration Laboratory (SAIL)
  • Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) Nose Cap
  • Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU Train)
  • Flight Deck Pilot/Commander Seat
  • Shuttle Bailout System (flown)
  • Middeck Galley (flown)
  • Rescue Ball
  • Exerciser Treadmill
  • Orbiter Drag Chute Set
  • Orbiter Wing Leading Edge RCC
  • Mission Chart, Edition 1
  • Leg Sizing Insert
  • Disposable In-Suit Drink Bag
  • Shirt, Polo w/STS-5 Mission Patch and NASA Worm Patch
  • Shirt, Polo, w/STS-1 Mission Patch and NASA Worm Patch
  • TMG Glove Assembly
  • Glove Assembly, Right
  • Glove Assembly, Left
  • Eva Suit Glove, Right (flight)
  • Sleep Restraint Unit (flight)
  • Assembly Sky Genie Rope
  • Kit Personal Hygiene Makeup
  • Full Size Shuttle Mock-up identified as 'Explorer'

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