Chair Force Engineer

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Looking towards retirement

Media reports suggest that the orbiter Atlantis will be the first orbiter retired under the shuttle's phased retirement plan. From NASA's perspective, this is a logical move. Retire the bird instead of putting her through an expensive overhaul just two years before the planned retirement. Previous reports had Discovery retiring first because it was the oldest orbiter in the fleet. This made no sense, because Discovery had just come out of a major overhaul in 2004. Endeavour, having been cannibalized to support the return to flight, is emerging from its last major overhaul.

God willing, the space shuttles will operate without another major accident, and Atlantis will be the first to retire. A battle will then erupt between various museums to take hold of the three remaining orbiters. As it stands, Enterprise is at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center, while the Cape and Huntsville both have realistic mockups of the shuttle orbiter, plus tanks and boosters that had been used during testing. It's not hard to imagine a shuttle being put on display in Dayton or perhaps Pensacola (if the Naval Aviation Museum wasn't so small.) Chances are good that the Smithsonian will want a spaceworthy orbiter to either supplement or replace Enterprise.

The fight for the pieces of NASA's history will be a contentious one, made all the worse by the two accidents which decimated NASA's fleet. It's a fight I would rather not be involved in.