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No space shuttle for Adler, but space-flight simulator on its way

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

NASA bypassed the Adler Planetarium — and all of America’s interior — when selecting the sites for three retired space shuttles and a shuttle prototype.

Adler will receive NASA’s fixed-base flight simulator, a three-story-high training device that is a replica of the shuttle crew compartment, NASA officials said Tuesday.

“The shuttle would have been a game changer,” said Paul Knappenberger, Adler’s president. “The simulator is the next best thing.”

Shuttle Discovery is going to Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum annex in suburban Washington. Enterprise, a prototype that is currently housed at the D.C. museum and was never used on a space mission, will go to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. Atlantis, which is scheduled for one last trip into space June 28 before its retirement, will go to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Shuttle Endeavour, which is preparing for its final flight on April 29, will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Olga Dominguez, NASA assistant administrator in the Office of Strategic Infrastructure, said when selecting the sites NASA sought out places offering the “best value to the American people” with the “potential for broad national and international access.” Museum attendance levels, access to transportation and regional population levels also factored in, she said.

When asked how Chicago, the country’s third-largest city, and the Adler Planetarium, with its focus on space exploration and location on the well-visited museum campus, fell short, Dominguez didn’t answer.

“The four locations had the largest regional population and visitation,” she said. “I wish we had more orbiters.”

Knappenberger didn’t have an estimate of the cost of transporting the simulator or constructing a new building, possibly on the parking lot southwest of the planetarium, to house it. That lot is currently a popular tailgating spot at Chicago Bears games.

Much of the simulator’s technology is outdated, and Knappenberger said he was interested in updating it. He also said he wants to give visitors a hands-on experience, though how close visitors can come to the simulator is ultimately up to NASA.

John O’Connell, vice president of the advocacy group Friends of the Parks, said Adler should put the simulator below ground like the Museum of Science and Industry did with the U-505 submarine.

“We would be concerned with any above-ground structure being added to that area of the lakefront park system,” he said.

Officials in several states that did not get the orbiters have called for an investigation into the process. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk said he was “discouraged” that Adler was not chosen and that he hoped the selection process was transparent. But Sen. Dick Durbin and Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel were pleased the flight simulator was coming to town.

The announcement by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. came on the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle launch and the 50th anniversary of the first man in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

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