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NASA, Houston has a problem

By Ted Poe and Pete Olson, Special to CNN
The space shuttle Endeavor will retire at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
The space shuttle Endeavor will retire at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reps. Poe, Olson: NASA is retiring shuttles to N.Y., L.A., D.C. and Florida, but not Houston
  • Houston ran the shuttle program; astronauts and their families live there, they say
  • They say decision to deny Houston a shuttle makes no sense and appears to be political
  • The home of Mission Control and people of Houston deserve answers, congressmen write

Editor's note: Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

(CNN) -- Now that the space shuttle program is ending, no other place in the world deserves a retired shuttle more than Houston, Texas. Put simply, this decision should be a no-brainer.

But Houston has been overlooked. Shuttles are going to Los Angeles, Florida, and Washington. The prototype Enterprise is headed to New York City. "We were tremendously surprised," said Susan Marenoff-Zausner, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York after NASA made the announcement. No kidding.

Sadly, it seems partisan politics permeates this announcement. And we are demanding answers.

The first word spoken on the moon landing was "Houston," not New York City. It defies logic for a shuttle not to land in "Space City, U.S.A." NASA has been ingrained in the culture of Houston for generations. The men and women who work at Mission Control in Houston have guided every single shuttle mission since the program began. Astronauts have raised their families in Houston. The families of the astronauts who perished in the Challenger and Columbia missions still live in Houston.

Texas Reps. Ted Poe, left, and Pete Olson.
Texas Reps. Ted Poe, left, and Pete Olson.

The families said in a statement: "We again share a collective loss as a result of the political decision to send the space shuttle elsewhere." It is disrespectful to these heroes and their families not to bring a shuttle home to Houston in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation's space program.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden justified his decision by saying that the locations he chose would give "the greatest number of people" the "best opportunity" to see the shuttles. He also cited access to national and international visitors.

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Here's our justification for Houston: Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, visited by nearly 7 million international visitors every year. More than 750,000 people a year visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston to glimpse the history of space exploration. Houston doesn't seek an orbiter because it wants to add a relic to a museum to highlight a marvel of modern engineering. It is more profound than that. To Houston and the men and women of Mission Control, who dedicated their careers to human space flight; it represents a life's work.

We can find no logical explanation for this mind-boggling decision. People from across America, including cities that also sought an orbiter, expressed disbelief that Houston would not receive a shuttle. This leads us to conclude that this administration allowed political favors to trump logic.

The home of Mission Control deserves answers and that is why our Texas colleagues joined us in sending a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asking him to explain his decision to Congress, the people of Houston and the American taxpayers.

NASA should be honest and provide the answers we seek on the criteria used to reach this decision and why Houston failed to meet those criteria. If, as we suspect, the measures were purely political, we will do everything in our power to make this right.

Above all else, NASA is an agency that has always served above politics and the amazing people who work at the Johnson Space Center have always risen to every challenge presented to them. They deserve answers.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

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