Guest Blog: Why Houston Did Not Get A Shuttle

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Immediate reaction from many people in the Houston area was that the Orbiter disposition decision was politically tainted. For example, this was the explanation of my old Rice classmate Annise Parker, her honor the Mayor of Houston.

Maybe there is some truth to that. It’s hard to say what goes on inside the Washington beltway with any certainty.

But my suspicions lie closer to home. Houston didn’t get an orbiter because Houston didn’t deserve it.

Not that we don’t have a long history with the shuttle; it was largely designed here; the program was managed from here from the beginning to the end, every single mission was planned here, the astronauts who flew the shuttle are based here, trained here, live here. Mission control is here. KSC is the only real competition for closest historical tie to the shuttle, no disrespect to Marshall, Stennis, Dryden or other NASA centers.

But Houston is blasé about the shuttles. Houston and Texas have come to regard NASA and JSC as entitlements. We deserve JSC and the shuttle just because of who we are.

Not true. Anything worthwhile is worth fighting for.

No disrespect to those who spearheaded the effort to bring the shuttle here, but the response was lackluster. The local politicians gave lip service, some weak letters to the NASA administrator and little else. We got a limp editorial or two in the local newspaper. The movers and shakers downtown barely lifted a finger. Its hard to tell if Austin and the Texas Legislature even knew what was happening. A rally at city hall was poorly attended, too little, too late, and totally ineffective.

You can tell that Texas regards involvement with NASA as an entitlement by the evidence: when was the last time a sitting governor came to JSC? I know the answer: Ann Richards in 1995. When was the last time the Houston mayor bothered to visit JSC? Anybody remember? Other states have strong programs to bring space investments to their states; Texas has virtually nothing.

Thousands of high paid, white collar jobs are leaving the Clear Lake area as NASA and JSC wind down. The City of Houston and the State of Texas have done, well, next to nothing. Nobody gets excited; nobody tries to bring new work here, a little lip service, no real effort.

Nope, Houston does not deserve an orbiter because Houston doesn’t care.

Don’t expect JSC and its mission control to be here forever just because we are entitled to them.

No, with the level of interest that our citizens and leaders have in JSC, I soon expect to see that facility in the hands of a different federal agency. Soon the National Park Service will be leading tours through the historic – and empty – halls of the Johnson Space Center National Historic Site.

Because we just don’t care enough to do anything about it.

 

This post originally appeared April 14, 2011, on Wayne Hale’s Blog.