Shuttle diplomacy

In a week NASA administrator Charles Bolden is scheduled to announce which locations will receive the shuttle orbiters Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour when the fleet is retired later this year. As you might expect, those sites vying for the orbiters are making one last push to convince NASA that they're the best site to host one of the three orbiters (it's widely assumed Discovery will go to the National Air and Space Museum, but it will, in turn, transfer Enterprise to another museum.) In Houston, local politicians and relatives of Columbia and Challenger astronauts are holding a rally Wednesday to show their support for that city's bid to win a shuttle. In Dayton they continue to weight their chances against the competition for a shuttle at the National Museum of the Air Force there. And Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) told Florida Today "matter-of-factly" that "One of the shuttles will have to go to KSC." The problem, of course, is that there are more qualified sites that can make strong cases for why they should have a shuttle than there are shuttles available: in other words, some will be very unhappy come next Tuesday. They-and their advocates in Congress-will want to know how NASA could have possibly overlooked the merits of their offer. All that could cause complications for NASA. An editorial in the Washington Post this weekend noted that one of the issues about the shuttle selection process is the lack of transparency in that process: exactly how the various proposals are being considered and how the decision will be made is unclear. That lack of detail stems "no doubt from a desire to avoid pressure from the dozens of 'shuttle-boosting' campaigns now making headlines," the editorial notes, but adds that "this isolation has reached the point that it is hard to tell on what basis the decision is being made." "It may be difficult to keep politics out of this process," the editorial concludes. "But the least we can ask for is a level playing field for the potential recipient sites and transparency in how the decision is reached. The shuttles are honors to be bestowed, not prizes to be bought." But many consider them just that: prizes to be won or lost, and those who "lose" them in next week's selection may be left with hard feelings towards the agency and/or its leadership.

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