For a while, it was tempting to hope that NASA's space shuttle program, which took off in 1981 and lived long past its original 15-year expiration date, would surpass our expectations once again and live to launch another day, beyond 2011. Initially set to stop in 1996, the program has been extended several times, existing twice as long as it was initially intended. But now comes news that NASA is really, truly and finally putting this old dog to rest.
Facing a tens-of-billions-of-dollars-sized fiscal hole in its shuttle program where government funding used to be, the agency has quietly begun auctioning off portions of the iconic Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The idea is to unload, lease, rent out, toss out, hand over and sell the center's various hangars, facilities and equipment before they fall into disrepair. Federal maintenance funds run out at the end of 2013, and NASA officials say the salty sea air blowing through the marshy area on the Florida coast will rust machinery and cause buildings to deteriorate fast.
"The facilities out here can't be in an abandoned state for long before they become unusable," said Joyce Riquelme, NASA Kennedy Space Center director of planning and development, in an Orlando Sentinel article. "So we're in a big push over the next few months to either have agreements for these facilities or not."
So, anybody want to throw down on NASA's old shuttle factory? Seriously, it's for sale.
An external booster tank (not for sale) is hoisted inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (via NASA)
NASA is taking private bids on a bunch of major shuttle program assets. That includes the Vehicle Assembly Building, the biggest single-story building in the world where Apollo shuttles were pieced together beginning in 1968. Boeing already leases one of the center's space shuttle garages. NASA is also trying to find a partner to take over Hangar N and its tracking equipment. NASA started offering tours in July 2012 of Launchpad 39A, the launch site of both Apollo 11, which was the first manned moon landing, as well as Atlantis, the last space shuttle of the program to take flight. It's been billed by NASA astronaut Jon McBridge as "the last place that I was on Earth before reaching the heavens."
Space Florida, the state's public-private space agency, has bid on some of the Kennedy Center's assets to help attract commercial space companies. Space Florida President Frank DiBello says the center's satellite processing equipment has "real value for the next generation of space activity."
Translation: The emerging commercial space industry can use this stuff to help launch their privately-owned future domination of space property.