Flight Simulator Will Make Chicago Home

April 13, 2011

I was hoping to be able to report that a NASA space shuttle was coming to live in Chicago. That isn’t to be, but there is a consolation prize.

Tuesday was the 30th anniversary of America’s first shuttle orbiter flight of Columbia on April 12, 1981. NASA took the day to choose homes for the four remaining shuttles, and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago was in the running.

In the end, NASA officials chose to retire the space shuttles in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Florida.

inside the simulator

A flight simulator is the next best thing.

While we didn’t get one of the shuttles, the Chicago Planetarium did get the next best thing: The flight simulator used to train the astronauts that went up in those shuttles.

The simulator still works. The three-story-high device models the interior of a space shuttle crew cabin and uses computer graphics projected on screens outside its windows to display virtual takeoffs, landings, space station docking maneuvers and other flight situations.

Chicago should get the simulator by the end of the year after all the shuttles officially retire. There are talks of constructing a building for the new exhibit, possibly in an adjacent parking lot.

“Of course, the Adler would have loved to be a home to one of the Shuttle Orbiters,” said Adler President Paul H. Knappenberger, Jr. PhD. “We also sought the Space Shuttle Flight Simulator, and NASA has confirmed the Adler will receive it after the last Shuttle mission is completed. This will become the centerpiece of a new, highly interactive space exploration exhibition in the years ahead.”

The 80-year-old Adler Planetarium, the oldest in the country, was one of 21 museums or science centers that bid to house a shuttle.

The four space shuttles and their new homes:

*Space Shuttle Discovery, the oldest of the shuttles, goes to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

*Space Shuttle Endeavour, which will take off on its last flight April 29, will then live at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

*Space Shuttle Atlantis, set to take off for its final time June 28, will be going to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

*Space Shuttle Enterprise, which was used for test flights, goes to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.

Space Shuttle Challenger, in 1986, and Space Shuttle Columbia, in 2003, were each destroyed in tragic accidents.

NASA officials said they chose the new homes based on where they thought the public would most get to experience them. They estimate that the cost to display one of the shuttles to be around $28.8 million.

“Adler is a shining example of the best our city has to offer and I am proud to see it recognized for the contributions it makes to both the people of our city and to our nation,” said Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “As we celebrate Adler’s award today, we are reminded of our remarkable history and inspired to achieve new heights.”

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