By U.S. REPS. GENE GREEN and JOHN CULBERSON
Last week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden perplexed and frustrated the people of Houston by announcing that we will not receive one of the retiring space shuttle orbiters. Discovery will go to the Smithsonian, Atlantis to the Kennedy Space Center, Endeavour to the California Space Center and the test prototype Enterprise to the Intrepid Museum in New York City. Space City, USA, is going unrecognized for its great contributions to humanity and the progress of science.
For the last 50 years, Houston has been in the business of guiding Americans in space, and we’re proud of the vehicles that our men and women pilot into the unknown. Houston is home to treasured artifacts from earlier eras of NASA’s human space-flight program: The scorched capsules from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo days reside at Space Center Houston, where millions of tourists have marveled at the decades-old technology that took the human race to new heights.
Our city has shared in the triumphs and tragedies of the shuttle program. The people of Johnson Space Center, including the celebrated astronaut corps, are, after all, our friends and neighbors. We go to the same churches and shop in the same stores. We have rejoiced in their successes and mourned when they did not return.
An orbiter not coming home to rest at Space Center Houston is truly tragic and ignores the enduring legacy of Houston’s role in human space flight. The manned space program is synonymous with Houston, much like Detroit and the auto industry and Washington, D.C., and our federal government.
We are extremely disappointed and dismayed that it appears politics were allowed to play any role in what should have been a merit-based decision. New York and Los Angeles have contributed much to different areas of the space program, but neither has played the same role in history and in space flight as Houston. Neil Armstrong did not address Los Angeles to announce that man had arrived on the moon for the first time. Our brave astronauts don’t train for the rigors of manned space flight in New York. For us, NASA and our nation’s space program aren’t just an industry, they’re part of our identity. The decision not to return home one of our own is more than just a disappointment — it’s an insult.
In response, we have joined a delegation of Texas members of Congress in sending a letter to the NASA administrator demanding to know why Houston was left out. We would like to know the specific reasons New York City was chosen. Considering the Intrepid Museum in New York is a mere 224 miles from the Smithsonian in Virginia, where Discovery will be displayed, wouldn’t it make sense to place a shuttle in a more central location? Now there are three locations on the East Coast and none in the central United States, and the Houston area is a large urban area that would guarantee a high number of annual visitors. All of these reasons would lead to a certain placement when considered with the significant historical connection, which leads to our basic first question: What factors did you use in making your decision?
Despite this setback, we will continue to fight to ensure that Houston will continue to guide humankind further into the wondrous realm of space by supplying our nation with a robust human space exploration program that is essential to our national security and leadership in the world.
Green, a Democrat representing the 29th Congressional District of Texas, is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Culberson, a Republican representing the 7th District, is a member of the House Committee on Appropriations.