On Tuesday, the Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown wrote a public letter to NASA chief Charles Bolden, urging him to reconsider his decision to award the retired Enterprise shuttle to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, and to give it instead to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located near Dayton, Ohio
Brown’s request comes in the wake of reports in late September that the Intrepid was considering changing its original plans to house the shuttle, officials close to the plans told WNYC.
Instead of putting the shuttle in a new glass hanger at the end of the Intrepid’s pier, the museum is reportedly thinking about building a brand-new space museum centered around the Enterprise. The museum would be located across the West Side Highway in a Department of Transportation-owned parking lot next to the H&H Bagels factory.
Senator Brown called the decision a “bait and switch.”
“These actions would represent a completely different proposal from the one NASA considered,” wrote Brown. “Such a change would deem that award void and we ask that you reexamine the proposals presented for the original competition.”
But Brown isn’t the only Ohio resident getting intro the fray. John Cavanaugh, a small business owner from Columbus, started an online petition on the White House Web site about two weeks before Brown wrote his letter.
The petition asked President Obama to intervene and revisit NASA’s decision to give a shuttle to New York. At press time, the petition had just over 2,000 signatures, mostly from Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest.
Cavanaugh said that he was upset that New York was selected, since the city has little to do with the space program.
“For the folks that were not selected, to see that one place that did get selected, which has a very tenuous relationship with the shuttle program if any, it's just very disheartening,” said Cavanaugh, pointing out that astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong both had called Ohio home.
Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio.
The Enterprise, a prototype that never actually saw space flight, was one of four retired shuttles awarded to museums around the country in April. The other three shuttles were given to museums in Washington D.C., Florida, and Los Angeles.
Other cities that applied with close connections to aviation and space flight -- including Houston, Dayton, and Seattle -- were angered by the decision. Senator Brown asked NASA to investigate its selection method, leading to a special report issued in August from the agency’s Inspector General.
The report detailed the elaborate point system used to pick the winners, which was based on performance in categories like “international access,” “attendance,” and “commitment to funding.” It acknowledged that some errors were made in scoring, which would have led to Dayton having a higher score than it received. In the report’s conclusion, the Inspector General advised the agency to carefully review the winners’ plans for displaying the shuttle to make sure they were financially feasible.
NASA said it was standing by its decision.
“The locations announced on April 12 ensure that the greatest number of Americans will have a chance to see these national treasures and learn more about their significant contribution to our nation’s space exploration history,” said an agency spokesperson, pointing to the fact that the Dayton museum was simply unable to compete with New York City as far as attracting visitors was concerned.
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum had no immediate response to Senator Brown’s letter and the challenge from Ohio. The museum refused to confirm or deny reports that they were considering building a new museum, saying only, “While we continue to be in the planning stages, we remain on track with both our logistics and our fund-raising.”