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Simulator, But No Space Shuttle For Adler Planetarium

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Space Shuttle Simulator

Actual picture taken from a tour of the fixed-base shuttle mission simulator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Credit: NASA.gov)

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Updated 04/12/11 – 4:24 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – The Adler Planetarium lost out on its bid to host one of the four NASA space shuttles on Tuesday, but it will be getting the next best thing: the shuttle simulator used to train astronauts.

“Of course we’re disappointed. We thought Chicago, and still believe Chicago is the place to bring a shuttle, but we’re very excited to have won the flight simulator,” Planetarium Board Chairman Bryan Cressey said. “The one and only flight simulator in the world is coming to Chicago.”

As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports, NASA announced Tuesday afternoon — the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight — that the four remaining shuttles would go to locations in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that Space Shuttle Atlantis would be going to the Kennedy Space Center, Discovery would be going to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the Endeavour would be going to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The Enterprise, the shuttle prototype used for test flights in the 1970s, but not for any space missions, will be going to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.

Shuttles Challenger and Columbia were destroyed in tragic accidents in 1986 and 2003, respectively.

Instead of one of the shuttles, the Adler Planetarium will get a shuttle simulator used to train astronauts for shuttle flights.

“We didn’t win the huge dog at the carnival but we won one of the sizable ones,” Cressey said.

“We believe it’s a very big deal. Every astronaut that went into space on the shuttle trained in it,” Cressey added. “There is only one and it’s the entire cockpit, it’s three stories high and, so, it’s a large item. We think it’ll provide great educational content.”

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s John Cody reports

Planetarium president Paul Knappenberger Jr. said it’s the next best thing to a space shuttle and will become the new centerpiece for the museum.

“You can go in it, you can sit down in the seat in the pilot’s chair or the commander’s chair and you can fly a simulated mission,” Knappenberger said. “You can launch, you can go into orbit, you can rendezvous with the International Space Station and come back down and land.”

That could make other interactive exhibits at the Planetarium look like child’s play.

“We think the numbers will be outstanding in terms of new visitors,” Cressey said.

Knappenberger said the Planetarium might have to build a new annex to house the three-story simulator and that will take millions of dollars.

He said they’ll look to the private sector for that cash and they may even get the simulator up and running before all of that is complete.

Unlike the four shuttles, the simulator will be an attraction that visitors can actually go inside and “fly.”

The simulator is still in use for the final shuttle mission later this year and is now in Houston at the Johnson Space Center.

Planetarium visitors on Tuesday were excited about the news that the simulator would be coming to the museum.

“I actually said to my parents that we’ve got to come back here in at least a year to check that out,” Planetarium visitor Remy Van Vorous, of California, said on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t consider it a consolation prize, I think it’s an excellent opportunity for the Adler Planetarium,” said fellow Planetarium visitor John Welker.

There’s another upside. It would have cost the planetarium $28 million to bring a shuttle here, but NASA is giving the Adler the simulator for free. The museum will still have to spend millions to build its new home.

Adler was one of 21 museums and centers around the country that put in bids for the shuttles.

The Planetarium ran a low-key campaign compared to some of the other 20 institutions hoping to receive one of the shuttles. Adler officials released in March a rendering of their vision of the shuttle “flying” through Chicago and spoke of their vision for the shuttle, which would add another major attraction to the already popular museum campus.

In contrast, Intrepid had politicians vocally promoting their site and well-publicized rallies with schoolchildren. Seattle’s Museum of Flight already started construction on a wing for the shuttle. And space aficionados seemed to get behind the Kennedy Space Center, the shuttle’s launchpad.

Chicago missed out on a shuttle despite a significant tie to the Endeavour. Former astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space, did so aboard the Endeavour in 1992. Jemison grew up in Chicago and graduated from Morgan Park High School in 1973 at the age of 16.

Houston, Texas, the home of NASA’s Mission Control also were competing for a space shuttle, as are the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio, and museums in Seattle; Tulsa; Huntsville, Ala., and McMinnville, Ore., among others.

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