The Kennedy Space Center will keep the Atlantis space shuttle. The California Science Center will get Endeavour. And the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., will get Discovery.
"We knew that it was tough competition. Every one of the 21 sites that was competing had a strong case," said Paul Knappenberger, president of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
The Planetarium did land a flight simulator used to train astronauts for shuttle flights. The simulator will be a center piece of a new Adler exhibit on space flights. It is now in Houston at the Johnson Space Center.
"There's only one and it's coming to Chicago and we are excited to have it. We would have loved to have had a space shuttle but we are going to love to have the simulator which every astronaut who flew in space trained in," said Bryan Cressey, chairman, Adler Board of Trustees.
The announcement was made just before 1 p.m. Tuesday. The Adler Planetarium, rejected by NASA to obtain a shuttle, aired the ceremony live. The ceremony originated from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Read more about Adler events Tuesday.
There was a lot of competition nationwide for the three shuttles and one prototype. NASA gave a space shuttle prototype of Enterprise to the Intrepid museum in New York City.
The total cost to bring a shuttle to Chicago and house it would have been about $100 million.
The Planetarium had hoped to showcase the shuttle in a massive glass-enclosed building that would have used the city's lakefront and skyline as a backdrop.
"I think it's a disappointment to a lot of people. I think it would be a really good thing to have for the youth, for the kids growing up," said David Tyndall, Adler Planetarium visitor
Adler's lobbying effort had included letters from Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and personal visits to NASA by Adler's president and Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, an Adler board member.
"We felt we made a very solid case with NASA for locating a shuttle in Chicago because of our great population base, ease of access in the middle of the country, 45 million tourists every year come here," said Knappenberger.
Twenty-one museums put in bids for the shuttles.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was guaranteed to get a shuttle. Other contenders included the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Air Force Museum in Ohio.
NASA is winding down its shuttle program, with only two launches left. Then the program will end in the summer.
NASA disclosed the winners Tuesday because the day coincides with the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch and the 50th anniversary of the first human in space.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.