SPACE CENTER HOUSTON — The shuttle replica at Space Center Houston has a new name.
“Independence” was chosen from more than 10,000 entries in the NASA visitor center’s Name the Shuttle Contest, which challenged Texans to come up with a name that best symbolizes the spirit of the state and its contributions to the U.S. space program.
Kingwood native Tim Judd, 29, was one of more than 200 people to submit the name, but Judd was quickest on the draw. He submitted Independence within seconds of the contest opening at 10 a.m. July 4.
Judd, a graduate student at Lesley University, said independence was the first word that occurred to him when he heard about the contest. Independence is a concept that has driven Americans for generations and continues to fuel space exploration, he said.
Judd helped unveil the shuttle replica’s new name at a ceremony at Space Center Houston on Saturday alongside officials from the visitor center. The center, run by a foundation independent of the neighboring Johnson Space Center, remains open in the midst of a government shutdown.
Judd’s name and hometown will be placed on a placard near Independence after the shuttle replica is hoisted atop the enormous 747 jetliner used to ferry shuttles in the program’s heyday.
The $12 million, six-story exhibit is scheduled to open in 2015 and will allow visitors to climb aboard the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and replica to see a variety of educational attractions and other features highlighting the history of the shuttle program.
The hometown of Johnson Space Center was snubbed when shuttles were awarded to museums on the east and west coasts.
The planned exhibit will be bigger and better than shuttle attractions elsewhere and will serve as a major tourism draw for the area, Space Center Houston President Richard Allen said. The replica piggybacked on the massive jetliner should even be visible from Interstate 45, he said.
Former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, who spoke at the ceremony Saturday, said the exhibit will be the only place that visitors can see a shuttle in its transport configuration.
Melanie Johnson, the center’s director of education, said features at the exhibit will help inspire a new generation of space explorers.
“It’s going to be iconic for Texas and iconic for the United States,” Allen said.