Shuttle Museum Choices Pass Muster with NASA IG

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NASA committed no wrongdoing in awarding the retired space shuttle orbiters to the four locations announced by Administrator Charles Bolden in April, an Aug. 25 report from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concludes.

“We found no evidence that the Team’s recommendation or the Administrator’s decision were tainted by political influence or any other improper consideration,” the report said. The team is a group of civil servants appointed by NASA to review the list of 29 applicants that were interested in receiving an orbiter.

The four retired orbiters are bound for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles, Va.; the California Science Center in Los Angeles; the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida; and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

According to the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, signed into law last October, the agency was to consider in its selection of display locations the number of people who could view the orbiters, the locations’ accessibility to international visitors and the ability of the host agency to pay the $28 million that it cost NASA to decommission and transport the retired shuttles to display locations.

Notably, selection criteria did not include consideration of an applicant’s ties to the space shuttle program, the inspector general said.

Among the interested parties that did not receive a shuttle were the Space Center Houston in Texas and the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

The NASA inspector general did note that NASA made some technical errors in evaluating the applications. There should have been a three-way tie among the Air Force Museum, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center Complex and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum under the evaluation method used by the selection team. The inspector general said that the mistake had not been corrected by the time Bolden made his announcement.

However, Bolden subsequently told the OIG that the numerical tie would not have swayed his decision because the Air Force Museum was not able to commit to raising the $28 million required to reimburse NASA  for preparing an orbiter for display and transporting it to its new home.

“While the Administrator was subject to a great deal of pressure from members of Congress and other interested parties, we found no evidence that this pressure had any influence on his decision about where to place the Orbiters,” the inspector general’s report said. It added that there appeared to be no evidence that the White House had influenced Bolden’s decision, either.

Finally, the OIG noted, the four venues that are to receive retired space shuttles appear to be on track to raise the money required by the agency.