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Retired Space Shuttles: Will Houston Get Shut Out?

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Discovery has landed safely, ending its last mission of a long and fruitful career. It's expected to spend its retirement at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum branch in Virginia.

Two other space shuttles are retiring this year -- the Endeavour and Atlantis -- and 29 museums have filed proposals to get their hands on one of them.

The Johnson Space Center, of course, is one.

Space.com, the authoritative Web site, lists five front-runners for the two shuttles (a third, the Enterprise, will become available but never flew in space). Who will be shut out of this game of musical shuttle chairs?

Our predictions for the front-runners:

5. The Museum of Flight in Seattle Yeah, yeah, Boeing is a big shuttle contractor and Microsoft execs could fund and produce some magical SFX display. Still, we're not buying it. Seattle will have to settle for the Enterprise.

4. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio Does someone at Space.com have a buddy at this place? No way it gets a shuttle.

3. The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Manhattan has a long and glorious historical connection with the shuttle program, if you count the number of congressmembers calling for it to be cut. But the Intrepid does offer the most prestigious location of the five "finalists," and NASA always likes to milk as much good publicity as it can. Strong contender.

2. The Kennedy Space Center, Florida Almost a lock for one of the shuttles. They take off from there, and KSC has put together a high-tech display proposal that's sure to wow the panel. Plus it's near a major tourist destination.

1. Johnson Space Center, Houston Here's Houston's proposal:

Exhibits will focus on the "human" side of shuttle missions.

Bottom line: Kennedy gets one shuttle; it comes down to Houston v. New York for the second.

The decision will be announced April 12, the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle flight and the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's mission.

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