Tuesday, October 25, 2011

“We the People” petition signers urge White House to reopen NASA Shuttle decision, land Enterprise at the Birthplace of Aviation

Online signature campaign rockets past 5,000 needed by end of month deadline – taxpayers seeking fairness and accountability in new process

(Dayton, OH – October 25, 2011)   In less than a month’s time, over 5,000 citizens and taxpayers signed an electronic petition posted on a White House website asking that the administration press NASA to reconsider its position on locations for the retired shuttles, specifically requesting the shuttle Enterprise be sent to Dayton for more appropriate display and better public access.  The White House “We the People” petition site required a minimum of 5,000 signatures be logged online by an October 30th deadline in order for the issue to be considered by White House staff and, presumably, President Obama.  As of 3:00 PM Eastern Time yesterday, October 24th, well over 5,000 had signed the petition and numbers continue to grow as the petition remains active until Sunday’s deadline.

NASA officials announced in April that the Enterprise would go to an east coast museum, geographically not that far from the shuttle Discovery, going to the Smithsonian near Washington, D.C., The petition promotes that the Enterprise should instead be displayed at the world renowned National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, which includes the adjacent National Aviation Hall of Fame Learning Center.  Public admission and parking is free, and over 1.3 million people from around world visit the dual facilities annually.  Dayton’s proximity the crossroads of o two of America’s busiest interstate highways, I-70 and I-75, and its Midwest location being within driving distance of 60% of the nation’s population are among many significant attributes supporters claim were overlooked if not dismissed by NASA in the original decision making process.

This is in stark contrast to NASA’s selection for the Enterprise location, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, which is not only in New York City, but currently charges admission of $24 per adult, and $12 or $19 per child, depending on age.  Then, in late September, a news investigation found the Intrepid Museum had not been forthcoming to NASA about its plans for a retired shuttle, revealing an inability to display the Enterprise in a suitable and timely manner, contrary to its original filing application.

This latest revelation came on the heels of a report in August by NASA’s inspector general that uncovered scoring errors in NASA’s ranking of suitable finalists.  Dayton should have tied New York and likely would have won out on several counts, not the least of which is that the Intrepid’s lone connection to the manned space program is that the retired Navy carrier once was used to recover Apollo astronauts after splashdown.

Conversely, Dayton, known worldwide as ‘The Birthplace of Aviation’, is home to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where aeronautical research has been conducted continuously for nearly a century, and where the museum and the Hall of Fame are co-located near Huffman Prairie, where Orville and Wilbur Wright perfected powered and controlled flight in 1905, and now a national park.  Additionally, Ohio is home to NASA’s Glenn Research Center and can claim over a dozen pioneering astronauts such as John Glenn, Jim Lovell and Neil Armstrong, as native sons.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) is among several key supporters of the “We the People” Shuttle petition effort, which was started by Columbus businessman John Cavanaugh.  “We applaud Mr. Cavanaugh’s initiative in founding this petition and bringing the opportunity to our attention,” said NAHF Enshrinement Director Ron Kaplan, who was the sixth person to sign it.  “We were as mystified as the rest of the taxpayers when NASA announced its locations for shuttle placements last April.  Now that our voices are heard through this White House site and elsewhere, we look to the administration and our federal legislators to ensure the oversight, transparency and accountability for placing the Shuttles that was clearly lacking throughout NASA’s original process, during and after.”

Kaplan credited many besides the membership of the Hall of Fame with pushing the petition effort over the top so rapidly.  Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, an early, outspoken critic of NASA’s flawed process and decision, was particularly supportive of the petition effort.  Cavanaugh pointed out that the cause and petition was ideally suited to go viral.  In addition to supporters leveraging social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, where Kaplan first became aware of Cavanaugh’s effort, to promote the cause, he named other organizations that effectively called their stakeholders to action, such as the State of Ohio Division of Tourism, southwest Ohio-area convention bureaus, and several bloggers.

A surge in signatures occurred last week after the publisher of a prominent regional weekly, the Dayton City Paper, donated a full-page ad to promote the petition on the back cover of  its annual election special issue.   A Dayton-based creative group contributed the ad design, its headline proclaiming, “It may not take a rocket scientist to help NASA understand that the Enterprise Shuttle should land in Dayton…. but it might take your signature.”

“The overwhelming support of our fellow taxpayers speaks volumes to our elected leaders as to the importance of this matter,” claims Kaplan.  “This isn’t only about America’s heartland being dismissed by NASA, nor the fact that their decision unfairly undermines untold opportunities in job creation, education and development.  It’s about pulling back the mystifying cloak of beauracracy, arrogance and indifference through this process, and ensure for U.S. taxpayers that NASA finally opts not for what may seem easy, but for what is right.  And Ohio is without a doubt the right choice for the Shuttle Enterprise’s public display.”

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