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Atlantis Launch, 2009As the crowd waiting at Cape Canaveral to see today’s lift-off of the Atlantis shuttle – the farewell song for the U.S. space shuttle program – held their collective breath and prayed for good weather, museums across the country have finished a waiting game of their own.

Established air and space museums nationwide vied for the chance to display one of the three remaining shuttles entering retirement. The selected museums will front the costs for the shuttles’ “autopsies” (removal of the engines and toxic fuels and solutions that were necessary for flight), build new facilities to house them, and then hopefully cash in on the dedicated base of space tourists across the country.


The shuttles’ new homes were announced in April. The Atlantis will stay in Florida, resting at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center after it returns from its final journey, the shuttle program’s 135th flight. Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph estimated the shuttle’s addition will boost the center’s annual 1.4 million visitors to about 2 million people a year. Discovery is destined for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia.


The prototype Enterprise, currently in possession of the Smithsonian, will go to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. (The Intrepid is a decommissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.) After the final Atlantis mission, the U.S. will turn to Russia for launching astronauts into space to populate the International Space Station.

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