Issaquah astronaut spearheaded museum’s space shuttle effort
April 19, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
The space shuttle simulator bound for The Museum of Flight boasts the same look and feel as a full-fledged orbiter, down to the switches on the instrument panels.
Bonnie Dunbar, a retired astronaut and Issaquah resident, said the soon-to-be-retired simulator offers a “high-fidelity feel of the vehicle” and a glimpse of day-to-day life in orbit.
NASA did not select The Museum of Flight as a site for a retired space shuttle April 12, despite a yearslong effort to land a coveted orbiter. Dunbar led the push to secure a shuttle for the museum.
Instead, the Seattle museum is due to receive a full-fuselage space shuttle trainer for the 15,500-square-foot Space Gallery under construction. Dunbar and every other shuttle astronaut used the trainer to prepare for space flight.
“If you went down to the next tier below the actual vehicle, this would it,” she said. “These are the simulators the crew trains in before flight.”
Astronauts use the trainer to prepare for spacewalks and emergency egress from the shuttle. The interior includes equipment, lockers and a galley almost identical to the systems inside actual orbiters.
“This is the only one that’s nearly complete, which means that it has the crew cockpit, it has the payload bay,” Dunbar said.
NASA installed the trainer at Johnson Space Center in Houston in the late 1970s at the dawn of the space shuttle era. Before the simulator is shipped to the Evergreen State, crews must disassemble and catalog the artifact. The piece should arrive by the end of the year or in early 2012. The museum is picking up the transportation costs, although the price tag is not yet finalized.
“When I take people to Johnson Space Center to tour, I actually take them to this simulator,” Dunbar said. “The reason that I do that is because it really is the one that gives you the best feel of being in the shuttle. You look at it from the outside and it looks like a shuttle. Every crew member who’s ever flown into space on the shuttle trains in that particular simulator.”
Simulator is museum centerpiece
The trainer is planned as the centerpiece in the glass-enclosed Space Gallery. Other artifacts planned for exhibition in the gallery include moon rocks and other spacecraft.
“It’s going to look like the shuttle, except it’s not going to have the wings, but we’re considering building wings,” Dunbar said.
The retired astronaut and Sunnyside native stepped down as The Museum of Flight’s president and CEO last year to serve as executive director for Wings Over Washington, a museum affiliate established to recognize the aerospace industry in the Evergreen State, and to spearhead the shuttle-acquisition effort.
Now, Dunbar plans to complete the effort to bring the trainer to the museum and fundraising for Aviation High School at the museum.
The museum started construction last June on the gallery to house a retired shuttle and other space artifacts.
NASA announced Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the California Science Center in Los Angeles and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City as shuttle recipients. The orbiter Discovery is bound for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Dunbar, 62, served on all but one of the soon-to-be-retired shuttles, including as a mission specialist on the shuttles Challenger in 1985, Columbia in 1990, and Atlantis in 1995, and as the payload commander on Columbia in 1992 and Endeavour in 1998.
The space agency selected sites in population-dense regions, including the largest cities in the United States and tourist-magnet Sunshine State, for the retired orbiters.
“When we listened to the debrief with NASA yesterday, it was clear that they weighted population of the area very heavily,” Dunbar said the day after the announcement. “Of course, you can’t change population.”
The Museum of Flight’s high-profile bid received support from Washington’s congressional delegation. Gov. Chris Gregoire and state legislators called on NASA to choose The Museum of Flight, too. King County Council members passed a measure last June to support the effort.
Gregoire noted the local connection to the shuttle trainer in acknowledging the NASA announcement.
“The full fuselage trainer, that every astronaut including Bonnie Dunbar has been trained on, will soon call The Museum of Flight home,” she said in a statement. “The largest of the trainers, this addition will allow visitors to actually climb aboard the trainer and experience the hands-on training that astronauts get.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.