Houston area business leaders and philanthropists aim to ensure that the NASA Johnson Space Center provides a permanent home for one of three retiring space shuttles at the city’s premiere tourist destination, Space Center Houston.
The fate of one of space exploration’s most heralded vehicles awaits the decision of NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., expected early this summer.
Approximately 20 venues across the nation are vying to be the final landing spot for a shuttle. Currently, Discovery is slated to reside with the National Air and Space Museum at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Still undecided are locations for Atlantis and Endeavour.
The logical choice
For area advocates, Houston is the logical location for a retired shuttle. The NASA Johnson Space Center is the home of Mission Control and the Astronaut Corps.
Since the early 1970s, JSC designed, developed, managed and controlled the Space Shuttle Program. During that time, the program forged a multi-generation connection to the Houston area with more than 20,000 professionals currently employed in the local space industry.
If the Houston site is selected, the shuttle would reside at Space Center Houston. The official visitor center for JSC, Space Center Houston ranks as one of the state’s top tourist attractions with more than 750,000 visitors each year.
Operated by the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation, Inc., Space Center Houston is dedicated to telling the story of human space flight experiences – its history, present programs and missions, and the future – through interactive, educational experiences.
The 184,300 square-foot facility is home to numerous pieces of historic space hardware from flown Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules, the Skylab trainer, astronaut flight suits and much more.
A lasting impact
According to Robert F. Hodgin, University of Houston-Clear Lake associate professor of economics, this new attraction at Space Center Houston has the potential to produce an estimated $45 million in additional annual regional economic impact, generating another $29 million in business value and over 750 jobs in the area.
“Bringing a shuttle home to Houston is good for our regional economy, and it would allow us to enhance our mission of education and advocacy for the space program,” said Richard Allen, president and chief executive officer of Space Center Houston. “We are uniquely qualified and ready to expand our visitor experience for the general public and through our educational programs with a new attraction focused solely on the space shuttle hardware and program history.”
Working to make it happen
Space Center Houston officials are planning the first major expansion of the facility since its opening in 1992 to showcase the shuttle. The new 53,000 square-foot exhibit will be a highlight for encouraging student interest and commitment to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
“Space science is abstract and a challenge for many students to comprehend,” Allen said. “The presence of a space shuttle would serve as the catalyst to promote understanding and inspiration.”
As the nation’s fourth-largest city, Houston provides convenient access to an array of potential visitors. Space Center Houston is working, along with the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and other partners across the state, to ensure Space Center Houston is a strong competitor for a space shuttle.
Allen said, “We submitted our official Request for Intent more than a year ago and have since conducted a capital campaign feasibility study and generated facility designs and programmatic concepts. We also established a formal subcommittee from our foundation Board to focus on more detailed relocation requirements, manage a capital campaign and oversee the effort should we be a selected site.”
The subcommittee is chaired by Houston area commercial real estate executive Fred Griffin and includes regional business leaders George A. DeMontrond III, Frans Gillebaard, Ron Kapche and Jim Reinhartsen.