Own a piece of NASA history for just $29M!

By Phil Plait | January 20, 2010 12:01 pm

NASA logoIf you have a few million lying around, and you qualify, you might want to add a Space Shuttle to your collection: NASA is selling off historic artifacts, and the Orbiters are among the lots:

NASA is inviting eligible education institutions, museums and other organizations to examine and request space program artifacts online. The items represent significant human space flight technologies, processes and accomplishments from NASA’s past and present space exploration programs.

This makes perfect sense to me. The Orbiters are large, and expensive to maintain. If NASA keeps them they’d have to find a place to house them, keep them clean, and so on. That would be a huge waste of money! By selling them to a museum or some other institution NASA gets some cash, and a museum gets just about the coolest exhibit ever. I would pay an admission fee to tour through an actual Orbiter! So this is a great idea. If you qualify, go to this page and sign up.

The NASA announcement also mentions Hubble artifacts; I suspect they mean cameras and other equipment removed from the observatory when it was serviced. The Faint Object Spectrograph already sits in the National Air and Space Museum, but several others (WFPC2, GHRS, FOC, COSTAR) may be on the auction block.

I’ll note I already own a piece of Hubble: when I worked on the camera called STIS, all the team members were given a piece of mylar insulation blanket that was removed in a 1999 servicing mission as a souvenir. The snippet is encased in plastic, but it flew on Hubble for nearly ten years.

hubble_blanket

I wonder if it’s legal for NASA to sell them? That would be a nice fundraiser too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA
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Comments (40)

  1. IBY

    How cheap, it is JUST 29 million dollars. :)

  2. Charles Boyer

    It’s really pretty simple. Put the Orbiters into a historically relevant context:

    One in the Smithsonian
    One in Houston at JSFC.
    One at the Cape.

    The only other place that should receive much consideration is Hunstville’s museum.

  3. I could see one ending up in Adam Savage’s back yard. It’d make an awesome tree house.

  4. Matthew

    It’s worth noting that WFPC2 and COSTAR are currently on display at the Air and Space museum.

  5. DrFlimmer

    Hm…. 29 Million… where are you? I have just seen them sitting somewhere. I have to search them, again. Oh, wait. 29 Million $? Well, that’s about, say, 20 Million €. No problem.
    Ah, they only sell in the US… that’s too bad, I’m out! 😉

    Btw: One should note that the price has been reduced from 42*10^6$. So, it’s a lot cheaper now!

  6. Charles – The Smithsonian already has the “Enterprise” at the Udvar-Hazy site. I’d say one of them should go to NASA Dryden at Edwards AFB. They’ve already got a bunch on hangers and they could keep it “in the family.” The only other possibility is to send the Enterprise to Vandenberg AFB (since it was used for fit-tests there in the ’80s) and replace it at U-H with one of the “real” orbiters.

    – Jack

  7. llewelly

    I’ll note I already own a piece of Hubble: when I worked on the camera called STIS, all the team members were given a piece of mylar insulation blanket that was removed in a 1999 servicing mission as a souvenir. The snippet is encased in plastic, but it flew on Hubble for nearly ten years.

    Actually it’s an astronaut’s grilled cheese sandwich. It was left up there by mistake. Exposure to the (lack of) elements rendered it as tough and thin as mylar. (Since it was space food, it already tasted like mylar.)

  8. Dang. That should have read “bunch of hangers” above. Naturally I noticed it just as the timer clicked to “0”.

    – Jack

  9. Charles Boyer

    @Jack Hagerty

    Yep, I have seen the Enterprise up in DC, but I would suppose that the Smithsonian would prefer the “real” flight hardware to add to its collection. Sending the Enterprise out west would be quite fitting, however.

    Me, I just emailed the wife that we need to clean up the garage. I can borrow a truck and pick up one of their spare main engines as soon as 2/8, on my way out from the next launch. :-)

  10. FoxtrotCharlie

    I find this hilarious since I recently saw an episode of Family Guy where Peter Griffin BOUGHT a Space Shuttle from a supposed NASA Auction! I’m sure Seth McFarlane must have $29 MM lying around somewhere…

  11. Rob Davidoff

    Phil, on the subject of Hubble, I still await a reply from you about where to send the autograph I had Megan McArthur sign for you when she came to my college last week.

  12. Minos

    @Charles Boyer #3:
    You could probably fit a SSME in the bed of a decent size pickup truck. Just make sure you bring a flag to hang off the back of it and a lot of bungee cords.

  13. I don’t know if they still do, but NASA used to send out thermal tiles to teachers who requested them for classroom use. So yes, I have a shuttle tile :)

    If I remember correctly, the paperwork said it was a 99 year loan, so in 2098, I have to return it or I am in trouble!

  14. MadScientist

    I see St. Ignatius of Loyola in that mylar – O hail patron saint of space telescopes!

    @hale_bopp: The loan thing is to get around numerous restrictions and horrible paperwork. One laboratory I worked at might still have a specialized gas cell on loan from LaRC (I was teasing folks about giving me the gold-plated prototype but they only made faces at me.) The device was a new(ish) technological accomplishment at the time, but these days I can buy the same on a commercial basis for about $1k a pop.

  15. I think this “Cash For Clunkers” has gone too far. 😉

  16. Threron

    The story I heard yesterday was that the shuttles were actually free – the $29 million is for packing it up and delivering the thing to your museum. So pick it up yourself, and don’t pay for delivery. Say, anyone got a really, really big pickup truck?

  17. Harman Smith

    Speaking of NASA stuff for sale: does anyone know where I could obtain a little model of Voyager 1? The Kennedy Space Center has some stuff, http://www.thespaceshop.com/, but no Voyager 1! Or Voyager 2. Or no Kepler Telescope (et cetera).

  18. Phil, While at AAS I chatted with the Smithsonian about what’s going to happen to GHRS. There is interest in getting it, but no movement yet to free it from the class 10,000 clean room it’s occupying at GSFC. I urged them to consider getting GHRS in the Smithsonian. WFPC2 is headed to JPL for a short while to be on display there.

  19. Picky

    Maybe the Creationist Museum should order one. Or two.

  20. No fault of Phil’s but there is a lot of misinformation being passed around about the orbiters’ and their related artifacts’ disposition (not limited to here, but in general on the web and in the media).

    First, a clarification — the website Phil links to is not the website for museums to apply for an orbiter, just everything else. The orbiters are being handled separately, with details on this NASA site:

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/transition/home/int_orbiter_rfi.html

    As Threron notes correctly, the orbiters (and their artifacts) are being awarded, not sold. The earlier quoted $42 million, now down to $28.8 million, were/are costs associated with the vehicles’ preparation for display and delivery. NASA has decided to pay for “safing” the shuttles, so the $28.8 million covers delivery by the modified 747 shuttle carrier aircraft to a U.S. destination airport.

    http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-121708a.html
    http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-011510a.html

    The other site, linked by Phil, is designed for museums and educational institutions to express interest in shuttle artifacts, including space shuttle main engine kits — not flight-worthy engines (those are being retained by the agency for future possible use). In fact, the orbiters themselves will be delivered without engines. The kits (basically partially assembled retired hardware), along with other artifacts, are being offered to eligible entities at no cost but delivery expenses may apply.

    As Jack Hagerty and Charles Boyer discussed above, Discovery is going to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Enterprise, which is there currently, will be moved to another museum (to be decided as part of this whole process).

    Phil, with regards to Hubble artifacts — WFPC2 and COSTAR were delivered to the Smithsonian late last year (though as ccpeterson notes, WFPC2 will be briefly displayed at JPL beginning this spring and then returned to the National Air and Space Museum):

    http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-111909a.html

    Oh, and that’s a great memento of your time with Hubble. I was able to pick up a couple of flown solar cells from Hubble’s first set of arrays, via ESA:

    http://www.collectspace.com/collection/artifacts_sat_hstcell.html

    With regard to selling artifacts, the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 routes federal surplus to educational organizations and nonprofit institutions when interest exists and where physically possible. The rest falls under federal management regulations, which sometimes results in artifacts being sold/auctioned through the General Services Administration (GSA), but most of that material is not what you would consider museum artifacts, rather scrap metal.

  21. Ben

    17. Threron Says:
    January 20th, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    The story I heard yesterday was that the shuttles were actually free – the $29 million is for packing it up and delivering the thing to your museum. So pick it up yourself, and don’t pay for delivery. Say, anyone got a really, really big pickup truck?

    Not only that, Atlantis and Endeavour are the only one’s available. Discovery is already promised to the Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum.

  22. J

    Museum exhibit? Eff that!

    Anyone that buys an orbiter should launch that baby!!!

  23. Rob

    Dang! All I have in my bank account is $28, 999, 999.01.

    Can someone lend me 99 cents?!?

  24. 20. Picky Says:

    Maybe the Creationist Museum should order one. Or two.

    Dunno, I read an article some time back that the Creationist Museum is having tax problems….

    J/P=?

  25. Stanley H. Tweedle

    29 million for that? No way!

  26. Dr Clement Okon

    WE ARE TOP OFFICIAL OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONTRACT REVIEW PANEL WHO ARE INTERESTED IN IMPORATION OF ZIS SPACE SHUTTLE INTO OUR COUNTRY WITH FUNDS WHICH ARE PRESENTLY TRAPPED IN NIGERIA.
    IN ORDER TO COMMENCE THIS BUSINESS WE SOLICIT YOUR ASSISTANCE TO ENABLE US TRANSFER INTO YOUR ACCOUNT THE SAID TRAPPED FUNDS.

  27. Petrolonfire

    @ 20. Picky Says:

    Maybe the Creationist Museum should order one. Or two.

    So which ones the male and which one’s the female – Endeavour or Atlantis? 😉

    Reckon they’ll have any luck breeding them? 😉

  28. Grand Lunar

    Shoot, I’d rather get a couple of boosters, an ET, some SSMEs and an Orion.

    Then, I’d get with the Direct team and build a Jupiter 130 out of it and show just what IT can do.

  29. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Why not sell them to the European or Japanese space agency and allow those space agencies to fly the shuttles for them? They could even help them help with the International Space Station.. or begin mass-producing shuttles and suchlike spacecraft.

    Or how about selling them to Burt Rutan or Richard Branson or Elon Musk (right name & spelling?) for the private space agencies to use as start up technology and transports? Or also Zubrin – is he private or public sector and does he have a team to help run it? Just an idea but why not?

    Or could the idea suggested in Stephen Baxter’s grim but good novel Titan be seriously considered? Fusing and using up the old shuttle gear combined with even older Saturn V and Apollo tech and doing a real space exploration out to the Saturnian system. I know that was science fiction but it was *hard* Science Fiction and Baxter made it sound at least semi-plausible. Has anyone looked into whether Baxter’s Titan tip ‘ could actually be done? :-)

    PS. I’d love to buy one but a) I’ve no money , b) where would I put it – I don’t have room & c) I wonder how it would go in terms of getting beer from the local drive-though and parking … 😉

  30. An old high school classmate of mine now works for NASA and has been closely involved with the Space Shuttle Program. I once asked him what they do with all the damaged or otherwise worn-out ceramic heat shield tiles they periodically have to replace on the orbiter. I mean, if NASA is that hard up for funding, why don’t they just sell THOSE? I would LOVE to have one.

  31. StevoR

    How about selling one to David Letterman’s Late Show so he can try to *really* fly a shuttle through the streets of New York like on their top ten list intro animation? 😉

    See discussion of this possibility via the Bad Astronomy Universe Today Forum here :

    http://www.bautforum.com/space-exploration/94749-can-shuttle-do-letterman-ny-landing.html

  32. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ me (31) :

    c) I wonder how the shuttle would go in terms of getting beer from the local drive-though and parking

    Parking the space shuttle in Cape Town Jo’Berg Sth Africa – as seen on Utube :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUMsVGF7GRU

    (3 mins long, some Not Safe For Work language.)

    Thanks here go to “01101001 Order of Kilopi” from that BAUT thread linked above. :-)

    (Wish I knew how IVAN3MAN (& a few others) manage to get videos into these comments.)

  33. Steve A

    Robert Pearlman beat me to the punch about mixing two stories together. BTW everyone should go read collectSPACE when you can. It presents a side of NASA you don’t often see or hear about.

    I’ve been following the shuttle story for a bit and it was cool to see even at the higher price there were a lot (I think ~20?) centers who *really* wanted one. I can’t wait to see who will go for one now.

  34. Brian

    I have a friend who also has a piece of Hubble (part of the thermal insulation, encased in plastic, just like yours). It was a gift from his grandfather who is the former CEO of Ball Aerospace, which built many of the instruments that are on Hubble today.

  35. Midwest Product

    Why not sell them to the European or Japanese space agency and allow those space agencies to fly the shuttles for them? They could even help them help with the International Space Station.. or begin mass-producing shuttles and suchlike spacecraft.

    I assume that aside from their associated maintenance costs, the primary concern space programs have with operating the shuttles is that, post-Columbia, they feel the risk of another re-entry disaster is too great to continue flying them. But given that everyone agrees they are still entirely spaceworthy, I really don’t understand why they aren’t integrated into the ISS as new habitation modules. They have fully functional life support systems and would add a ton of new space, especially if the cargo holds were sealed and converted into habitable space. They might also be able to serve as more effective life rafts than the Soyuz does in the event of a catastrophic event. And if in-orbit refueling is possible, would their thrust allow for Apollo 8-style trips around the Moon?

    It seems like a waste to take craft that are perfectly safe to operate in space and put them in museums on Earth, even if their sale is capable of raising money for NASA.

  36. Brian Too

    Oooo, I knew it, there’s always a catch, isn’t there? $0 purchase, $29 million Shipping and Handling. It’s always the S&H!

  37. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 37. Midwest Product Says:

    … given that everyone agrees they are still entirely spaceworthy, I really don’t understand why they aren’t integrated into the ISS as new habitation modules. They have fully functional life support systems and would add a ton of new space, especially if the cargo holds were sealed and converted into habitable space. They might also be able to serve as more effective life rafts …

    Now *that* is a good idea! I’ll second that plan. :-)

    (Belatedly but still.)

  38. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 37. Midwest Product & ^

    Unfortunately, as it turns out, that idea won’t work as Sparky explained on another related thread :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/05/06/the-last-flight-of-atlantis/

    ***

    20. Sparky Says:
    May 8th, 2010 at 2:15 am

    … [SNIP.] … As far as leaving a shuttle at the station, that can’t happen for some very obvious technical reasons. As already noted, life support isn’t designed to last that long. Sealing the payload bay is impossible, since a) the doors need to be open for the shuttle to be docked to the station, b) the payload bay has more vents than a fishing net, c) the orbiter’s airframe wasn’t designed to be pressurized, and it is very unlikely that the structure could handle that, and the shuttle itself would create some very serious clearance issues with the few remaining ports left on ISS.

    ****

    A shame & I wish they could find a way round it & still use the orbiters for something like that but I understand why they can’t use the Shuttles in the ISS like that now. :-(

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