Pssst! Wanna bid for a space shuttle?

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    The shuttle Endeavour returns home after a four-day trip from Edwards Air Force Base in California following its recent mission to the International Space Station.
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The US space shuttles Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis are up for grabs.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration put out an invitation to museums, education outfits, heck, even to NASA Visitors Centers to host a space shuttle, or, if space and money is tight, one of the shuttles' main engines.

Currently, the US space-shuttle program is slated to shut down by the end of next September. Stay tuned. That might change once President-elect Obama takes office.

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Still, it's a rare opportunity to grab a piece of spaceflight history.

Before you start raising your hand, however, some caveats:

Estimated cost? $42 million to have a shuttle delivered to the nearest airport. Oh, and if your airport's runway is less than 8,000 feet long, forget it. An orbiter comes assembled, so an airport must be able to accommodate NASA's modified Boeing 747 ferry, fully loaded with the shuttle.

If you're of more modest means, shoot for a shuttle main engine. But be forewarned: Lots of assembly required. NASA currently estimates that it could run from $400,000 to $800,000 to reassemble one of these puppies. Oh, yes, shipping must be prepaid.

And make sure you have a shed big enough to hold either momento: As NASA puts it, "...the orbiters and the SSMEs will require suitable climate-controlled indoor display space." Talk about final frontiers! With a wingspan of 78 feet, a length of 122 feet, a tail whose tip is 56 feet off the ground, and a weight of 151,000 pounds, think big.

NASA says it will scrub the orbiters as thoroughly as it can for any residual toxic material, such as the fuels used for the orbiters' in-flight maneuvering system. The cost of "safing" a shuttle it part of the sticker price.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum undoubtedly will get one of the three remaining shuttles. It already already houses Enterprise, the orbiter NASA used to conduct manned landing tests, out by Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C.

If you're interested in these craft, NASA has set a deadline of March 17, 2009, to apply, complete with a clear plan for raising the money. The agency wants to deliver the goods no later than May 31, 2012. You can find the details here.

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