Less than a month before the space shuttle Discovery is set to become a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. found himself again defending his choice of the four sites that will get the retired space shuttles.
Appearing before a House Appropriations panel Wednesday, Bolden was pressed by Rep. Steve Austria, R-Ohio, to explain whether he would have chosen the same winners — Kennedy Space Center, New York City, Los Angeles and the Smithsonian — had flaws in the selection process unearthed by NASA's inspector general in August been known before last year's announcement in April.
Bolden's unequivocal answer: yes.
"I think you will probably find that the mistakes that were made — and there were mistakes — affected every single site that was a competitor to include some of those that received them," Bolden told Austria. "There was nothing subjectively that changed significantly that would have made me pick one other [site]."
Bolden's comments came during a nearly three-hour, often spirited, hearing where he was asked to explain various aspects of the Obama administration's $17.7 billion budget request for NASA in the 2013 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Bolden came under fire about the space shuttle retirements from Austria, whose central Ohio district lies near Dayton, home of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The museum applied for one of the four orbiters but didn't get one when Bolden announced the winners in April 2011.
Four months later, Inspector General Paul Martin issued a report saying NASA's assessment of applications was flawed and that the Dayton museum should have tied with Kennedy Space Center and New York in the competition.
NASA has said a key factor in choosing the four sites was the potential audience they could reach. And Bolden pointed out at Wednesday's hearing that "there were significant shortcomings on the proposal from the National Museum of the Air Force, not the least of which was funding."
A revised score would not have changed his mind.
"Once I did find out there were mistakes, I went back and looked at where those mistakes were made," he told Austria. "I re-evaluated the relative standing of all the entities that were being considered and there was nothing of significance that caused me to want to change my mind about our locations."
Discovery will be flown on April 17 from Kennedy Space Center to Washington Dulles International Airport, where it will be on display at the nearby Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian museum.
Shortly after Discovery's arrival, Enterprise, now housed at the Udvar-Hazy site, will be flown to New York City, where it will eventually be at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
Atlantis will remain at Kennedy Space Center, and Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.