Adler Planetarium makes pitch for NASA space shuttle

An artists drawing of a potential home for the space shuttle at Adler.

Here’s a rummage sale advertisement you don’t see very often: Thirty-year-old space shuttle seeks loving, well-equipped museum home.

But that’s more or less NASA’s plan for its three retiring space shuttles – Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis. And Chicago’s Adler Planetarium has spent more than a year wooing the space agency to be exactly that home.

The planetarium, located on Chicago’s lakefront Museum Campus, released this week a glimpse into the proposal it submitted to NASA last winter. The plans include an artist’s rendering of a yet-to-be-designed home for the space shuttle, should NASA award it to Adler.

“When we heard [NASA was looking for proposals], we thought it was just a natural for us,” says Adler President Paul Knappenberger. “We’re excited about it and we think we’ve made a strong case to bring the shuttle to Chicago.”

That case includes a new building, which has yet to be officially designed but which would likely made largely out of glass, with the shuttle on prominent display against the backdrops of the city skyline to the west and the lake to the east.

The new wing would sit where the parking lot currently is and would house the shuttle, along with the flight simulator NASA uses to train shuttle astronauts, which will come permanently to Adler later this year in an unrelated deal. The parking lot would be moved underground.

Knappenberger says the flight simulator and the shuttle would make for a powerful exhibit about space exploration. He says the proposal, one of 21 submitted by U.S. space and flight museum, stressed keeping the shuttle accessible, from opening the cargo bay doors to a crawl-through tunnel for kids.

Adler also plans to highlight the roles of Chicagoans and Midwesterners in the shuttle’s history.

Astronaut John Grunsfeld, who flew five shuttle missions, grew up in Chicago. So did Joan Higginbotham, a 1982 graduate of Whitney Young Magnet High School and a 2006 missions specialist aboard discovery. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space, was another product of Chicago Public Schools, graduating from Morgan Park in 1973.

“Those stories, those personal stories, would be a way for visitors to connect with this great icon of American space exploration and leadership,” Knappenberger says.

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