Adler hopes to land Endeavour or Atlantis

Architectural rendering by Gensler (Adler Planetarium)
March 18, 2011 4:51:01 AM PDT
The Adler Planetarium in Chicago is among 21 museums across the country bidding to get one of several NASA space shuttles as a permanent exhibit.

The space shuttle Discovery recently completed its last mission. Two others will a final voyage before the shuttle program ends in May.

The Adler Planetarium's Paul Knappenberger hopes he can win the country's newest space race.

"We want to bring it here to Chicago and locate it here next to us on the lakefront so that school kids -- not only in Chicago, but the entire Midwest -- can come here and see it," said Knappenberger.

Sparked by the looming retirement of the space shuttle fleet, Adler, adlerplanterium.org, is among almost two dozen museums vying to become home to one of the orbiters.

NASA has already promised the oldest surviving shuttle, Discovery, to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Twenty-one other institutions are now bidding to add one of its mates, the Endeavour or the Atlantis, to their collections.

Historians say aviation museums haven't scrambled like this since the Concorde was put on display in 2003.

"The space shuttle is probably the most recognized object maybe in the world," said astronomy historian Marvin Bolt. "It's so iconic, when you see it, everybody recognizes what it is."

The shuttle is free, but there is a catch:

  • Any qualifying institution must be able to pay the nearly $29 million price tag per shuttle. That covers post-flight repairs and transport on the back of a 747 jumbo jet to its final destination.
  • The craft must also be displayed indoors.

That second reason is why the Adler Planaterium, which is already home to a number of space artifacts from the Apollo 13 mission as well as a Gemini capsule, is working on plans to convert a nearby parking lot into a glass pavilion with underground parking large enough to house the 122-foot-long shuttle with a 78-foot wingspan.

"To have a national treasure like that located here in Chicago would be a wonderful inspiration," Knappenberger said.

NASA will make its decision about the final destination of the soon-to-be retired shuttles on April 12. That's the 30th anniversary of the first launch of a NASA space shuttle.

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