Seattle's Museum of Flight broke ground June 29 on the first phase of its new 15,500-square-foot "Human Space Flight Gallery." While the Museum has long planned to expand its space exhibits, the new state-of-the-art gallery is a precondition to being awarded one of the retiring United States Space Shuttles, which may be delivered on the back of a Boeing 747 as early as July, 2011.
Joining retired astronaut and Museum CEO Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar and Interim President and former President of Microsoft, Michael Hallman, was Washington State Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen. Lt. Governor Owen spoke to the importance of the Space Gallery to Washington State and the greater Northwest, as both an educational beacon for science and engineering, as well as a stimulus to tourism, the fourth largest industry in the State.
The new Space Gallery, costing approximately $12 million, will be located on the west side of East Marginal Way, across the street from the main museum campus. The State legislature earlier approved $3 million in capital support to build the Gallery, with the remaining coming from private foundations and individual donations. While a decision has not yet been made on where these last Shuttles will retire, having a climate-controlled building in place for the Space Shuttle is among the requirements that NASA established in its 2008 and 2009 Requests for Information (RFI) to the public.
"The Shuttle is among the rarest of space artifacts," said Interim Museum President and former President of Microsoft, Michael Hallman. "The possibility of securing one is very exciting, and would be a tremendous opportunity for the state of Washington in terms of the economy, tourism and the educational impact this could have on our community. We believe our institution has the finest education, curatorial, and exhibits staff to be found anywhere and we believe we're uniquely qualified to be an outstanding caretaker for this incredible piece of American history."
"Education will be central to the exhibit preparation of the Space Shuttle," said retired astronaut and Museum CEO, Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar. "The Museum of Flight is one of the largest non-profit air and space museums in the nation, serving more than 120,000 K-12 youth annually through its science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) based educational programs. The Space Gallery, and the Space Shuttle, if awarded to Washington state, will be another centerpiece to deliver these important educational programs in a multi-state region. We also believe this can inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, so that we can provide solutions to 21st century problems, and help the nation remain economically competitive."
Of the three active Shuttles, one - Discovery - is slated for display at the Smithsonian's Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Museum in Washington, D.C. The three retiring shuttles, the Enterprise, Atlantis and Endeavour, will be distributed to other destinations across the nation.
The decision from NASA is dependent on several criteria, with a principal focus on K-12 education and inspiration to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers. Other requirements for the applying institutions include a commitment to educate the public through demonstrated experience in exhibit and display development, a sufficiently long enough runway on which to land the 747 that will carry the Shuttles to their ultimate destinations, and being located near a large metropolitan area. "We believe we are uniquely qualified in all of these areas," Dunbar said.
At today's groundbreaking, new renderings of the planned Space Gallery were revealed along with the Museum of Flight's [URL=http://www.museumofflight.org]enhanced website[/URL], which encourages people of all ages to participate in the acquisition of a Space Shuttle to Washington state. There are several ways to show support; including "signing" a support log which will become part of the new gallery exhibits as well or donating directly to the gallery fundraising effort.