Need that perfect gift for the space buff in your life?
Got 129 million cu ft of spare hangar space?
Then has NASA got a deal for you: Once the space shuttle fleet retires,
probably by 2010, the shuttles will be ready for purchase.
But even for the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum,
the shuttles come at a hefty price—about $42 million each!
Earlier this week the space agency issued a Request for Information (RFI) to educational institutions, museums, and "other organizations" in an attempt to sell off the remaining space shuttles in 2010. The estimated total for tax, tags and freight is $42 million. According to NASA, the RFI will "gauge the level and scope of interest of U.S. organizations in acquiring … orbiters and other major flight hardware."
The agency hopes to find homes for two of the three orbiters; Discovery is already earmarked for the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. By law, the institution has something akin to a rights-of-first-refusal agreement with NASA that allows it first crack at space memorabilia once the government is done with it.
Discovery's long, active history makes it a logical choice for the Smithsonian. The third of NASA's winged spaceships and the oldest working orbiter, Discovery was deployed for the Hubble Space Telescope on mission STS-31 in April 1990, carried the 77-year-old John Glenn back into space in 1998, and was twice NASA's return-to-flight spacecraft—after the Challenger disaster in 1986 and the Columbia explosion five years ago. While Enterprise, the shuttle built for test flights, anchors the Smithsonian's space collection at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles airport in Virginia, the museum has long wanted to replace it with an operational orbiter. "To have any flown orbiter would be wonderful," says Valerie Neal, the Smithsonian's curator of the human spaceflight collection. "The Smithsonian tries to acquire the oldest or first-flown aircraft—so up until 2003, we'd hoped it would be Columbia. Now, of course, Discovery would be a perfect fit."
But that history comes with a hefty price tag—even for the internationally renowned Smithsonian. "We were in a different era then, where we had no eBay and people who were looking to make money off of artifacts," NASA spokesman Michael Curie told CollectSpace, a Web site devoted to space memorabilia. "So it was to everyone's advantage to try to provide them to those who might display them." NASA makes an important distinction: The $42 million isn't to buy an orbiter, but to prepare it for public presentation—nearly $30 million goes to "safeing" the craft (removing the fuel systems and other environmental hazards), approximately $8 million goes to display preparation and the final $6 million or so is spent on transportation and installation. Technically, the agency says, the cost is compensation for shipping and handling.
Industry observers also suggest that the cash-strapped space agency is grabbing every dollar it can find for the over-budget Constellation Program. In August, budget constraints forced NASA to scrap plans to have the shuttle's replacement, Orion, ready by 2013. The orbiters should be available Sept. 30, 2011, according to the RFI, and they should be ferried to their final destinations by May 31, 2012—where they will likely remain for a long time, since the agency is also decommissioning the 747 that is used to haul the spacecraft. "In the past, sometimes we have paid for this sort of 'shipping and handling,'" Neal says, "but this is unprecedented in terms of the cost involved. We're thrilled to have an orbiter designated for us, but we'll have to resolve the cost matter. Luckily, it's not like we have to come up with the money in 90 days."
Sweet... I want one!!! =)