Houston we have a problem

April 13, 2011 — Leave a comment

The headlines say it all, One Giant Snub for Houston – Shuttle Shutout – Lost in Space. Houston, aka Space City, did not get chosen as home to one of the four space shuttles being retired in the summer.

Discovery will be housed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC; Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York; Atlantis in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center; and Endeavour at the California Science Center in LA.

The Lyndon B Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, home to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and training center to astronauts, both American and international, has been deemed a suitable conservator for flight deck commander and pilot seats!

Outrage at this outrage has been instant, angry, disappointed, measured but above all sad.

Houston is the center of manned space exploration. It has been since 1963 when JSC opened, though under a different name, on land donated by Rice University, another Houston landmark. It was the culmination of legislation nurtured by Senator Lyndon Johnson and brought to fruition by President John F Kennedy when in his speech at Rice University in 1962 he said, “We choose to go to the moon.” He went on to say, “We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.”

Nothing has changed. About the college, the city or the state. The challenges are still there, globally and in space. We still live in a decade of hope and fear as we see countries implode, whether through man-made or natural disaster. We would be both foolish and ignorant if we felt our thirst for knowledge was quenched.

Houston was originally chosen as home to the Apollo Project, which would eventually land man on the moon because of the availability of water transport, an all-weather airport, good communications, a mild climate, availability of established industrial workers and contract support and a culturally attractive community. None of that has changed either, though by withholding one of the space shuttles jobs will undoubtedly be lost.

Assistant administrator for NASA’s Office of Strategic Infrastructure, Olga Dominguez, collected more than two dozen proposals from museums across the country. Factors such as national and international public access, quality of the facilities, display plans and population were taken into account. So to was the prerequisite that “candidate museums should have historical ties to the space agency.”

As former director of JSC George Abbey said yesterday, “We designed it. We tested it. We operated it.” How much more historical can it get?

But for Houston right now it’s emotional too. It is not even sure that JSC will be the designated keeper of remnants of Columbia, found in the Piney Woods just north of Houston, after the tragic disintegration of the orbiter in 2003. Family members of those killed in both the Challenger and Columbia disasters said in a joint statement, “Home is where the heart is, and Houston has served as the heart of the space shuttle program since its inception nearly four decades ago. All the astronauts lost were Houston residents. We again share a collective loss as a result of the political decision to send the space shuttle elsewhere.”

Houston is a city built on stories of enterprise, strength, challenges, discovery and endeavour. She will need all those to fight the injustice meted out yesterday.

Houston deserves recognition and one of the space shuttles for her role in the history of space exploration.

This should be one instance where Houston does not have a problem!

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