Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Alabama: Relocation of Equipment from the Neutral Buoyancy Space Simulator (Huntsville)
In February, the Council provided recommendations to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on its proposal to relocate equipment from the Neutral Buoyancy Space Simulator at Marshall Space Flight Center. The Council did not object to the proposal since it would be impractical for NASA to duplicate the components in question. Also, the impacts of the transfer will be temporary, since the equipment will be returned and the simulator will continue as an operating facility in the future.
However, the Council recommended that NASA provide the Alabama State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the Council with a realistic timetable for the return of the equipment. Another recommendation was that NASA investigate the logistics of consolidating its training activities over the long term, so that temporarily moving the equipment to another facility would not be necessary in the future.
NASA responded to the Council’s recommendations in letters dated March 8 and March 26, 1999. NASA will proceed with the temporary relocation of the equipment, but is committed to its return once immediate training needs are met. NASA also is developing a management plan for the simulator that will include provisions for care and rustproofing of the equipment and a timetable for its eventual relocation. NASA will also provide drawings and photographic documentation of the facilities to the Alabama SHPO.
As a result of its 1984 “Man in Space” theme study, the National Park Service designated the Neutral Buoyancy Space Simulator a National Historic Landmark (NHL). The simulator is one of 20 NHLs controlled by NASA which are significant in American history for the contribution they made in space travel. A large metal tank, 75 feet in diameter and 40 feet tall, the simulator is filled with water and used to train astronauts to work in zero gravity.
In February 1999, NASA contacted the Council with its proposal to remove some of the equipment and hardware from this facility and temporarily relocate it to a similar facility at the Johnston Space Center in Houston, Texas. This would assist NASA in training astronauts to assemble the International Space Station and to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Prior to contacting the Council, NASA consulted with the Alabama SHPO as required by a 1989 Programmatic Agreement for management of NASA’s NHLs. The Alabama SHPO objected to the proposed removal of the equipment, stating that it would compromise the integrity of this NHL facility.
Under the terms of the Programmatic Agreement, NASA contacts the Council if there is a disagreement with a SHPO that cannot be resolved. If the Council cannot resolve the issue, it either provides formal Council comments or staff recommendations that NASA must take into account in determining its course of action. After discussing this project with the Alabama SHPO, the NASA Federal Preservation Officer, and staff of the National Park Service, the Council elected to provide staff recommendations to NASA.
In 1991, the Council issued its report, Balancing Historic Preservation Needs with the Operation of Highly Technical or Scientific Facilities, which was developed in response to congressional concern for balancing Federal historic preservation requirements with the unique operational needs of such facilities. The Neutral Buoyancy Space Simulator, right, is pictured on page xi of the report, and the preservation issues that the report discusses continue to be important ones.
Photo courtesy of NASA
This project highlights several, including the need for
flexibility, the benefits of continuing the historic use of properties where possible, and the potential for recordation as mitigation.
Staff contact: Tom McCulloch
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