Could the space shuttle Atlantis dock in Downey?

DOWNEY - Hopes that Downey may yet acquire the quarter-scale space shuttle orbiter model that has been on loan display in the Calgary International Airport have not died.Scott Pomrehn, assistant deputy city manager, says that since the whole space shuttle assembly (orbiter, external tank, and solid rocket boosters) was designed and built here in 1974 for ground vibration testing for an extended period of time, it stands to reason that Downey be given the honor of displaying the model. No less than Smithsonian officials have been known to indicate that Downey is the possible eventual home to the complete shuttle assembly, especially now that it has a museum-like facility. An act of Congress even designated the Columbia Memorial Space Center as a national memorial to the space shuttle Columbia and the crew of STS-107 who was lost on re-entry in 2003. Because of this alone, the unique role of Downey in the evolution of space flight and science is set in stone. The other components of the space shuttle model were shipped to NASA's Johnson Space Center and are known to be in storage. The original space shuttle assembly was a mockup built by Rockwell International here in Downey. Disassembled later, it was trucked first to Palmdale, where it was refurbished, then transported back here. It sits in storage, ready to be moved, restored, and put on display, most probably at the Downey Studios site where the Tesla manufacturing plant would have been. Now, with NASA's shuttle program to the International Space Station winding down, to give way to a new program favored by president Obama calling for astronauts to focus on asteroids and Mars in the next few decades, a storied chapter in the history of space flight is about to end. Space shuttles Discovery and Endeavour represent the last two shuttle missions to the International Space Station, scheduled respectively to launch in September or October and before year-end or early next year. (Atlantis just barely two weeks ago ended its run).Thus, after 30 years and more than 130 flights, NASA's space shuttle program is getting phased out for good. Rumor has it that these soon-to-be-space-shuttle-relics will be given away. This sounds so ridiculously simple, until the conditions for their acquisition were brought to light: the acquiring facilities must each possess $30 million for transportation and upkeep costs for each shuttle, the shuttle must be displayed indoors (necessitating a huge hangar), it must be next to a runway "big enough to land a 747/shuttle combo," and last but not least, one shuttle should go to the Midwest and one to the West Coast. Obviously, these conditions rule Downey out. Be that as it may, Downey can get satisfaction in being a significant part of the vast network of landmarks throughout the country that celebrate the past and promise of space flight. "You can expect the city council to take steps to at least obtain parts of the space shuttles, a robotic arm perhaps or doors or the cockpit," said Pomrehn, "or any significant component, to complement what we already have. This is not too bad a goal for the city, is it?"

********** Published: June 4, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 7