Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The upside of not getting a space shuttle

Not surprisingly, there has been much gnashing of teeth about Houston being denied a retired space shuttle to exhibit.  And as a Houstonian, I'm certainly disappointed.  But let's step back a bit and understand the logic of the decision and even the upsides for Houston.

First, and most obvious, Space Center Houston won't have to spend the required tens of millions of dollars to exhibit the shuttle, which would have certainly boosted ticket prices and possibly even cut attendance by price-sensitive families.

Second, Space Center Houston already has a complete mock-up of the cockpit and nose of the shuttle, and JSC has a mock-up of the entire shuttle that I believe is part of the tour.  I accept that's not the same as a complete, real one, but if kids (and adults) want to learn about the shuttle, we're certainly not lacking of exhibits in that department.

Third, would the boost to tourism really be all that large?  If people are interested in space, they're going to visit Space Center Houston - even if only to see an awe-inspiring Saturn V rocket.  I can't imagine many people blowing it off simply because it lacks a full-size, real, retired space shuttle.  The whole, comprehensive package of exhibits is an impressive draw as-is.  On the margins, people will choose to either visit SCH or not, and a space shuttle - or lack thereof - won't change the decision.

Fourth, let's not forget that the most important thing that NASA - and therefore JSC and Houston - needs is public support.  If the citizens don't support it, it's not going to get the resources it needs to survive and thrive, and that support has been flagging in recent years.  We need these shuttles to be exposed to the absolute maximum number of people possible, including the next generation of kids.  NYC, DC, LA, and Florida do that (and they are willing to spend big money on spectacular displays).  NYC and LA are the two largest metros in the country (by far), and will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from both coasts and across the country.  The DC Smithsonian is a no-brainer, and will generate huge exposure.  And while the Midwest is complaining loudly about not getting one, let's face it: almost everybody in the Midwest goes to Florida on a regular basis every winter.  If they want a chance to see a shuttle, they're certainly going to get it.  And let's get realistic ourselves: most of the citizens of this country are going to visit NYC, LA, DC, or Florida long before they ever put Houston in their vacation plans.  We're a great city, but let's not fool ourselves that we're a national tourist destination (but at least we're not Dayton, Ohio! ;-)

Yes, it's still a bit disappointing.  But viewed in context, it's just not that big of a deal, and could even yield some long-term benefits for NASA, JSC, and Houston.  And isn't that what we all really care about?

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At 4:52 PM, April 13, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're losing the fuselage trainer and cockpit trainer too.

At 5:28 PM, April 13, 2011, Anonymous Teague said...

You make some very good points.

At 6:06 PM, April 13, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the NASA Johnson Space Center is a diminishing asset and may not even exist in 10 years if the federal fiscal situation continues to deteriorate and hard decisions have to be made. (And if Texas does not have clout in Washington.)

It isn't clear if there will be a government-run manned space program. If there is, it may make sense to consolidate everything in Florida. If manned spaceflight is privatized, those firms seem to be elsewhere.

There's no doubt, a shuttle would have been nice to have. But maybe we need start thinking about the post-JSC era. That means focusing effort on attracting new employers and helping displaced workers change careers.

At 6:30 AM, April 14, 2011, Anonymous Mike said...

Maybe they weren't too impressed by the facility we built to exhibit our Saturn V:

Compare with the Saturn V in Huntsville, AL:

I guess a magic marker drawing on a beige warehouse with exposed air-conditioners just doesn't do it for these NASA folks!

Or maybe there's a big, unused, space-age building somewhere on the South Loop that would make a spectacular display for our Saturn V....

At 8:42 PM, April 14, 2011, Anonymous kjb434 said...


gridlockjoe is right. All of the exhibits pertaining to the Shuttle will eventually be moved away. No mockups, no nose, nothing will be left at SCH.

At 2:44 PM, April 15, 2011, Anonymous Bill C. said...

While it is disappointing that the "real" space shuttle will not be happening, the Space Houston Shuttle facility might as well be considered the real deal because of how detail-oriented it is.


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