HOUSTON — A report released by NASA’s watchdog on Thursday saying the agency acted properly when it chose not to award Houston a retired space shuttle has not soothed the bruised egos of some local officials who view the decision as a slap in the face to a city that has long tied its fortunes to the nation’s space program.
Although the report concluded NASA’s decision was not politically motivated, some Houstonians remain angry the home of Mission Control was not chosen as a final resting place for one of the four Orbiters. Local officials and congressmen insist NASA and President Barack Obama’s administration excluded the Texas city because of the state’s Republican leanings.
They pointed to an initial finding in 2009 that determined Houston should get a shuttle. They accused NASA administrator Charles Bolden of deliberately changing the criteria to focus on areas that would attract international tourists rather than those with ties to the program so that he could exclude Houston. They disagree with Bolden’s conclusion that Houston and its space center do not get enough international traffic to justify putting a lucrative shuttle in its museum.
“It’s clear to me this was rigged from the beginning and it was pretty clear Houston would not receive the Orbiter,” GOP Congressman Kevin Brady told The Associated Press.
“By completely eliminating the ties of Houston to the shuttle they were able to justify moving it to cities and communities with few ties, such as New York. This criteria should be an embarrassment to the White House and to the leadership that made this decision,” he said.
Bolden — a former shuttle commander who once lived in Houston — and a special agency team decided the retired shuttles would go to Cape Canaveral, Fla., Los Angeles, a Smithsonian Institute facility in Virginia and New York City’s Intrepid Museum.
Bolden, who still owns a home in Houston, told NASA investigators that personally he “would have loved to have placed an Orbiter in Houston,” but the Space Center Houston had lower attendance and fewer international visitors than the winners.
NASA’s Office of Inspector General concluded in its report that there was “no evidence that the team’s recommendation or the administrator’s decision were tainted by political influence or any other improper consideration.”
Bob Mitchell, president of Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, which led the city’s bid to secure a shuttle, fired back angrily, saying the initial findings didn’t suit Bolden “so he changed the rules. He didn’t like what they said so they changed the rules.”
“I’m not surprised. I said it from the beginning — it was a political decision,” Mitchell said.
He scoffed at the idea that Houston is not an international city or could not attract enough foreign visitors.
“Name another city that is as international as Houston. Houston has 94 international consulates. The only city that surpasses that is New York City,” Mitchell countered.
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Republican from Sugar Land, Texas, said Bolden “sought and implemented a plan that would deliberately exclude ties to the shuttle program and therefore remove Houston from the equation.”
Most puzzling to some of the Houstonians was how the city went from a top pick in 2009 to No. 10 of 13 finalists after the criteria was changed. The city scored lower than museums in Chicago, Seattle, San Diego and McMinnville, Ore.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Mitchell concluded.
Printed on Friday, August 26, 2011 as: Houston officials claim NASA snub was political.