Museums scramble for retiring space shuttles

NASA has set the date for the last Space Shuttle launch at February 26, 2011, and as an era comes to a close, museums around the country are fighting to get their hands on one of the retiring vessels.

The Space Shuttle Discovery is earmarked for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. It has graciously agreed to give up the shuttle it already has–the Enterprise, which was used for testing but never flew into space. Besides the Enterprise, Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour will also be available for museums.

The scramble for a Shuttle has not always been polite. A total of twenty-one institutions in almost as many states are competing for them, and Congressmen from Florida and Texas tried to get wording put in NASA’s latest funding bill that would give their states preferential treatment. The House Committee on Science and Technology rejected that move.

What museums do you think should get a shuttle? Give us your vote in the comments section!

Photo of the Space Shuttle Atlantis taken from above courtesy of NASA.

Congress says airline fees, basic math obscure deals

Deal-hunting used to be relatively simple. You’d fire up your computer, hit a few aggregators and online travel agencies, maybe a few airline sites. Then, you’d pick your ticket and pull the trigger. The lowest number wins, right?

Wrong … at least according to Congess.

Down in Washington, the folks who’d rather not be distracted by continued high unemployment or wars in two countries dispatched investigators to dig into the wave of new fees introduced over the past few years make it hard to figure out where the best deal is. Your cheap ride seems great, of course, until you want to grab a pillow and check a bag … or not check a bag, depending on the airline.

According to USA Today:

Since 2007, many airlines have been charging for services that were traditionally included in the price of a ticket. That’s improved airline bottom lines in a tough economy but raised the ire of travelers who find themselves nickeled and dimed to substantially higher costs.

The mathematical gymnastics involved – e.g., adding a bag-checking fee to the ticket price – are more common in Europe, where easyJet and Ryanair have forced passengers to do addition for years.

While Congressional investigators don’t think passengers can do the math for themselves, it’s clear that the airlines have figured it out: 10 U.S. airlines raked in $7.8 billion in ancillary fees last year. Delta led the pack with $1.6 billion.

Spirit Airlines to Congress: paying for overhead bins helps the poor

You just don’t need to take your bags on vacation, said Spirit Airlines CEO, Ben Baldanza. He’s told Congress that his airline, which brands itself as a “super-low-cost” carrier, actually makes it easier for the proletariat poor to take to the skies, even if it does require that they plop down $45 to stuff a carry-on into the overhead bin.

In a sense, it does. If you choose not to check a bag, that’s $5 bucks shy of half a C-note you’re tucking back in your wallet, but the cheap tickets can run a tad costly if you go with all the up-charges, according to a report by ABC News. So, the poor are all set as long as they exercise some restraint, it seems.

According to Baldanza, “We are certain that Spirit’s decision to unbundle services not essential to the transportation of passengers, has enabled more passengers to fly at lower cost.” He added, “Indeed given our low fares, it has allowed many to travel who otherwise simply could not afford to do so.”

So, what’s next for Spirit? I’m guessing that cake will be served on every flight, for a fee of course, which the airline will gladly let the poor eat.

Travel lobbying: Cuba, medical leave cost $305,000

Money may be tight in the travel business, but there’s always some pocket change hanging around for lobbyists. In the first quarter of 2010, the American Hotel & Lodging Association shelled out $305,000 on federal lobbying. Cuba was one of the top items, along with labor issues such as family medical leave and health insurance for small businesses in the industry.

Shocked at the number? I am, too. I figured it would be a tad higher. Given the strain on the travel industry as a result of prevailing economic conditions, I had a feeling that the industry would be lobbying hard for flexibility to save some cash and add a little more to the till.

The organization’s lobbying targets included Congress and the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Homeland Security.

Congresswoman wants to expand nation’s oldest archaeological preserve

On Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix is one of America’s most enduring ancient mysteries–a giant adobe structure called Casa Grande. It was erected by the Hohokam, a people who built towns where Tucson and Phoenix are today and who turned the desert green with an extensive system of irrigation. Ironically, the modern city of Phoenix was founded by American settlers who cleared out the prehistoric Hohokam canals and reused them for their own farms.

Casa Grande was a settlement between these two centers of population and was at its height 150 years before Columbus “discovered” America. At its center was a four-story building unlike anything else in the prehistoric southwest. Nobody knows for sure why the Hohokam civilization died out shortly thereafter, and nobody knows the purpose of Casa Grande. The late archaeoastronomer Dr. Ray White believed that Casa Grande’s windows were a prehistoric observatory that marked important times in the calendar such as the solstice and the equinox.

This mysterious building became the nation’s first archaeological preserve in 1892 and a national monument in 1918. Archaeologists have since realized the monument doesn’t protect many outlying areas of the site, and now Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (Dem-1st District) has proposed House Resolution 5110 to protect 415 more acres. The move has the support of local archaeologists as well as the influential newspaper The Arizona Republic. The expansion was initially proposed by Kirkpatrick’s Republican predecessor Rep. Rick Renzi.

It’s a gutsy move at a time of belt tightening and threatened park closures, so it will be interesting to see if a destination on the itinerary of so many southwestern road trips will get the funds to expand its boundaries.