Museum Seeks Shuttle Artifacts

As the Tulsa Air & Space Museum continues its efforts to land a retired space shuttle for display in Tulsa, it has received the first step of approval to acquire other artifacts that will help the museum tell the story of the shuttle program and the part Tulsans played in it.
This fall, NASA opened the Space Shuttle Historic Artifacts Program to give museums, universities, science centers, other government entities and selected nonprofits the opportunity to secure some of these artifacts.
The program allows governmental entities first shot at the artifacts, but in October the program was opened up to others. The program allows for a pre-screening of the artifacts and a selection process but does not guarantee the granting of the requests.
Jim Bridenstine, TASM executive director, said the museum’s selections included a full-size shuttle trainer that was used to train astronauts throughout the program.
The trainer is actually a complete shuttle without the wings. It has a fully outfitted command deck and cargo bay, including bay doors.
In addition, TASM selected a full-size cockpit trainer that rotates to the vertical launch position, giving the occupants a feel for what it’s like to prepare for launch.
Other TASM selections included flight suits, boots, a sleeping restraint, shuttle rocket engine with nozzle and one of the “strongback” jigs that were built in Tulsa and used in the construction of the cargo bay doors. NASA officials estimate that the selection of winners of the artifacts will be made by February.
“We went through the process to get approval to receive a number of items NASA will be retiring in 2010,” Bridenstine said. “When you talk about the full fuselage trainer, that’s a one-of-a-kind device. When you talk about the cockpit trainer, there are only two of those in the world. These are pretty important devices.
He said the full fuselage trainer could provide an important hands-on display for the museum.
“It is basically a space shuttle without wings,” Bridenstine said. “We can touch it, we can sit in the cockpit, we can sit in the crew compartment, we can go into the bay area. In a way, it is better than a space shuttle itself because people can interact with it. If we were to receive a real space shuttle, it will be a beautiful display, but we can’t be hands-on with it.
“We feel that having gone through this artifact selection process we now have a little more insight into how the space shuttle orbiter selection process may go.”
This month, TASM received a $50,000 grant from the Sherman E. Smith Family Charitable Foundation in support of its Land the Shuttle campaign.
“Sherman and Ellie Smith have been enthusiastic supporters of TASM throughout its existence, but this most recent grant to the museum illustrates just how important this project is to not only the museum, but to the city of Tulsa as well,” Bridenstine said.
He said the grant will allow TASM “to further market our efforts to land the shuttle.”
The decommissioning of the orbiters is slated to begin once the Space Shuttle Program has come to a close. NASA has five remaining missions to the ISS. Once those missions are completed, orbiters Atlantis, Endeavor and Discovery will become earthbound, signaling the end of NASA’s longest-running manned program.
TASM is one of 20 museums being considered by NASA to receive one of the shuttles set to retire in late 2010. TASM is laying the groundwork to best position itself for delivery of one of the shuttles. Oklahoma astronaut John Herrington is chairing the “Land the Shuttle” campaign on behalf of TASM.
The Tulsa aerospace industry was involved in the shuttle program from its inception. Under the Rockwell banner, Tulsans built all of the cargo bay doors for all of the orbiters. At the time, the cargo bay doors were the largest composite structures to be flown into space.
In addition, much of the ground-handling equipment was built at Rockwell Tulsa. The mate-demate device that lifts the orbiter to attach it to the back of the 747 carrier aircraft and also rotates it vertically to attach it to the launch stack was built in Tulsa.

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