That assertion that Hennepin County roads were built so wide to accommodate the space shuttle in the event of emergencies? It’s satire, people. Really good satire.
This was a lengthy and complex project, as government ones tend to be. In the ten years or so leading up to the first shuttle launch in 1981, 14 different cities in the United States and Canada were designated as “Abort Landing Sites” for the shuttle. Compared to a conventional airplane, the Space Shuttle was fairly hard to maneuver—the thing would be going about 18,000 miles an hour (like traffic on Lyndale Avenue) at the beginning of reentry. So in the event of an emergency or miscalculation during either takeoff or landing, these Abort Landing Sites would be available if the craft was unable to return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In Minneapolis, this included roads like Franklin Avenue, Lyndale Avenue, Hennepin Avenue, Penn Avenue, and Broadway Street Northeast, among others. Mostly north-south and east-west routes, but the diagonal roads were also important to get a variety of approach vectors. Downtown was excluded from the plan due to the burgeoning skyway system and the hazard that would present to incoming spacecraft.
Magrino’s essay didn’t carry a disclaimer that it wasn’t true, and people have a way of believing things they’re told. So it is with the idea that Lyndale or Hennepin or any of those streets was a legit emergency landing site for the space shuttle. Why not? Really? You’re asking why not?
So I asked Paul Dye, the Bemidji and Roseville native who was the longest-tenured flight director in the history of NASA.
The City Pages article contains the disclaimer at the end of the article.
Editor’s note: This post appeared originally on the author’s blog. It is a work of satire… though the fact you got all the way to the bottom and couldn’t decide if it’s real might mean some of our roads are wider than necessary.
By the way, if you’re really interested in the nuts-and-bolts details of how to land the space shuttle, we recommend this account in the EAA Green Dot podcast featuring former astronaut Charlie Precourt. Start at the 14:23 mark.