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When NASA announced where its four retired space shuttle orbiters would be permanently housed -- at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, in New York, in Los Angeles, and at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida -- the two most disappointed candidates were Texas and Ohio.
Both were considered favorites to land a spacecraft, from a field that included more than 20 cities.
Texas staked its claim largely on being home to NASA's Mission Control. Ohio is not only home to the Wright Brothers, pioneering astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong and NASA's Glenn Research Center, but is the site of the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Wright Patterson Air Force Base outside of Dayton. That’s where the shuttle would have been housed.
"Unfortunately, it looks like regional diversity amounts to which coast you are on, or which exit you use on I-95," jeered Sen. Sherrod Brown, who joined the rest of Ohio's congressional delegation in calling for a federal investigation into the selection process.
Members of Ohio’s congressional delegation jointly urged NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden to select the museum as a home for the shuttle because of it’s location.
"Within a day’s drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population, the museum is easily accessible to millions from across the American heartland, hosting more than 1.3 million visitors annually," they wrote in a letter April 30, 2010.
The 60 percent figure is one PolitiFact Ohio has heard several times. Brown and Rep. Steve Austria both repeated it in recent days.
For purposes of this item we’re attributing it to Rep. Michael Turner, a Republican from Dayton whose congressional district is home to the museum. Turner was the lead signer on the letter, but he was joined by all of Ohio’s representatives and senators.
Going back 150 years, and as recently as 1940, the population center point of the entire nation was in Ohio. But population drift, and the coastal tilt of NASA's decision, made us wonder if the claim still flew. And how far is "a day's drive," anyway?
We traced the claim from the NASA letter to a statement on Dayton's municipal website. It said the city is "located within 500 miles of 60 percent of (the) U.S. population."
That statement linked to a business story from the Dayton Daily News. It quoted Wright State University Professor Dwight Smith-Daniels on the subject of centroids: places that have a high proportion of a country’s population and a high proportion of its manufacturing, generally within 500 miles. He said Columbus/Dayton and the Riverside, Calif., areas are the two in the United States, making them important for supply chain managment in business.
But he phrased it differently. "Ohio is within 500 miles of 60 percent of the country’s population," he said.
Smith-Daniels’ comment gave us actual mileage for "a day's drive." It also made the claim for Ohio -- a big state -- and not just a site in one corner of it. And that make a big difference.
We tested both versions using U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2010 census (numbers slightly more current than what Smith-Daniels would have had available).
Working from the bureau's website, we identified all counties whose centers are located within 500 miles of Ohio's borders.The area reaches northwest beyond Minneapolis and east to include nearly all of New England and the eastern seaboard. They totaled 171.4 million people, or 56 percent of the U.S. population of 308.7 million.
That estimate rounds to 60 percent, which is what the professor said.
Then we identified all counties whose centers are located within 500 miles of the museum in Ohio's southwest corner. Their population totaled 130.5 million people, or 42 percent of the U.S. population.
By our assessment, that means the congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats alike, went too far by applying a claim for the whole state to just Dayton. A 500-mile range from the museum reaches across New Jersey, but doesn’t take in New York city or New England.
The congressional delegation’s underlying point was accurate -- a large portion of the U.S. population would be within driving distance of a shuttle in Dayton. But by narrowing the starting point for the range from the entire state, as Smith-Daniels used, to just the museum, they also eliminated more than 40 million of people.
Then again, they also were smart enough not to say how far they’d drive in a day.
With that important detail mentioned, we rate the claim as Half True.
The Hill, "Houston to NASA: We have a problem," April 12, 2011
Los Angeles Times, "NASA decision to send space shuttle to L.A. is 'shameful,' 'tawdry politics,' critics say," April 13, 2011
Sen. Sherrod Brown, "Bipartisan Group of Ohio Delegation Members Call for Federal Investigation of Shuttle Site Selection Process," April 12, 2011
SpaceRef, "Brown Statement on NASA Shuttle Announcement," April 12, 2011
Rep. Mike Turner, "Rep. Turner, Senators Voinovich and Brown lead delegation efforts to secure retired NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter for NMUSAF," Letter to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, April 30, 2010
City of Dayton, "Cool Facts about Dayton"
Dayton Daily News, "Dayton region a crucial hub for supply chain managment," Dec. 21, 2009
U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census Data
U.S. Census Bureau, Census Briefs
U.S. Census Bureau, Median Center of Population for the United States: 1880 to 2010
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