No Shuttle for Houston's Mission Control

Wednesday, Apr 13, 2011  |  Updated 12:41 AM CDT
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The Johnson Space Center in Houston won't be the final home of any of the retiring space shuttles.

Kevin Cokely, NBCDFW.com

The Johnson Space Center in Houston won't be the final home of any of the retiring space shuttles.

The Johnson Space Center in Houston isn't getting one of the retiring NASA space shuttles, meaning the home of Mission Control will be left out when the fleet retires this year.

Houston was one of 21 sites nationally in the running to receive the Atlantis, the Endeavour or the Discovery.

Officials chose the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the California Science Center in Los Angeles and a Smithsonian Institution branch in suburban Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

The Enterprise, a test-flight orbiter that is already on display at the Smithsonian, will move to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

Houston was bitterly disappointed that Johnson Space Center would only get seats from a shuttle.

"There was no other city with our history of human space flight or more deserving of a retiring orbiter," Houston Mayor Annise Parker said.

But Jan Collmer, one of the founders of the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas said each of the retiring shuttles will land in the right place.

"I can definitely see D.C., and I think that's very appropriate," he said. "And Los Angeles is a huge aviation enterprise, and they have a giant museum there, so it's appropriate."

Business leader Bob Mitchell helped push the Houston site. He said the city's bid lost out to politics because all shuttle astronauts trained in Houston and more than two dozen still live there.

In a statement, Republican Sen. John Cornyn also said Houston's snub clearly showed that "political favors trumped common sense and fairness."

Olga Dominguez, an assistant NASA administrator, denied that politics played any role in the selections.

"It's unfortunate that the middle of the country didn't fare as well as the coasts," she said.

When asked why Houston was bypassed, she said, "We just didn't have enough to go around."

Dominguez said reaching the largest population possible was among the factors for NASA's choices. The chosen locations already draw more than 1 million visitors apiece each year.

Control of space flights shifts to Houston from Cape Canaveral after launch.

There were originally four space shuttles. Challenger was destroyed during liftoff in 1986, and Endeavour was built as a replacement. Then Columbia was lost in 2003.

The space shuttles are being retired as part of NASA's shifting and still-uncertain future for sending astronauts into space.

After the 2003 Columbia accident, President George W. Bush proposed sending astronauts back to the moon. To pay for the expensive new rockets, NASA would retire the space shuttles.

President Barack Obama continued the shuttle retirement, but cancelled the return-to-moon mission in favor of a combination approach. Private companies would build their own rockets, and NASA would pay for rides to the International Space Station, like a taxi.

At the same time, NASA would work on bigger rocketships that would eventually take astronauts to other places, such as an asteroid, and eventually to Mars.

NBC DFW's Kevin Cokely contributed to this report.

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