Shuttles For Sale

Three orbiters in search of good homes. Not cheap.

Space Shuttle Enterprise Arival at UHC on November 20, 2003 being moved into the Space Hangar (Dane Penland)
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Evergreen opened the museum in 1991 and now has more than 100 aircraft on display. Its prize attraction is Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, an airplane with a wingspan wider than the Airbus A380’s; it bought the flying boat from Disney in 1992. And it has a new 121,000-square-foot building just waiting for a tenant.

“We understand the challenges; they are very clear,” says Bailey. “The orbiter is big, it’s hard to move, and it’s expensive, but we wanted to be ready, and we are.”Evergreen barged the Goose to McMinnville, waiting for low tide to sneak the cargo under bridges. The same technique should work for the shuttle, but if not, the company will figure something out. Moving big stuff, Bailey notes, is what they do.

Also unworried is the National Air and Space Museum. Based on the RFI, the Museum is virtually guaranteed first pick, and Neal says it plans to request Discovery, the oldest of the three shuttles. The Museum will almost certainly make its shuttle on display, Enterprise, available to another museum. Now at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Enterprise was a prototype, flown only in atmospheric drop tests, not in space.

Still, for some candidates, it’s not just about the money. New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, at the piers of downtown Manhattan, has in its favor location, a huge metro region, and legions of tourists. The museum would house the shuttle in a glass enclosure on the end of Pier 86 at 46th Street.

The museum “is uniquely positioned to be the recipient of one of these national treasures,” says Bill White, president of the foundation that operates it. Getting the money wouldn’t seem to be a problem; the Intrepid foundation raised $115 million for the recent overhaul of the carrier and its pier (see “Restoration: Cleaning a Carrier,” Aug./Sept.2008) and to cover two years’ operating costs. Now the Intrepid is raising more for a shuttle; officials won’t say how much.

On the other coast, Seattle’s Museum of Flight has Bonnie Dunbar, a former astronaut, as president and CEO, and is located in one of the cradles of American aviation. And the museum butts up against Boeing Field/King County International Airport.

Dunbar says her museum is building an exhibit hall that could house the orbiter. As for the$42 million entry fee, “It is twice as much as the new building will cost, and quite a surprise,” she says. But she adds: “I think it’s all negotiable—and it should be.”

If so, Museum of Flight, with its larger market, might have an advantage over Evergreen, but Bailey remains undaunted. Evergreen built the new facility partly as a Field of Dreams impulse: If you build it, the shuttle will come. When it comes to exhibits, he says, “we don’t do penny-ante stuff.” Probably the right attitude.

Guy Gugliotta is a writer in Pelham, New York.

About Guy Gugliotta

Guy Gugliotta, a long-time science writer, and most recently lead editor of the memoir Swift Boats at War in Vietnam, published by Stackpole in 2017, is a journalist and author based in New York.

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