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Toyota Tundra Turns Space Shuttle Into Political Football

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Schematic of Toyota Tundra towing Space Shuttle Endeavour

Schematic of Toyota Tundra towing Space Shuttle Endeavour

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At this point in election season, everything becomes political: the brand of car that candidates drive, the designers of the outfits worn by candidates' wives, the funders of buildings where national conventions are held, everything.

The latest political football? The Space Shuttle Endeavour. 

That's not because Endeavour symbolizes the end of an era in space exploration, or because it represents the loss of thousands of NASA jobs. No, it's because Endeavour is being towed to its final resting place by a Toyota Tundra.

The basics

As we all know, NASA's Space Shuttle program has come to an end. Now, the remaining Shuttles are being sent to museums and other facilities around the country: Atlantis will be on display at Florida's Kennedy Space Center; Discovery went to the Smithsonian; Enterprise is on view in New York City; Explorer will be displayed in Houston.

Endeavor is en route to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. It will arrive at LAX on October 13, then travel 12 miles to its new home.

For the first 11 3/4 miles of that journey, Endeavour will be hauled by a giant, industrial-strength NASA transporter. It'll be a circuitous route -- dubbed Mission 26 -- to show off the shuttle to the public and dodge tight overpasses. (The journey will also require the removal of some 400 trees.)

Then, just before reaching the California Science Center, something unusual will happen. The NASA transporter will disengage, and a humble Toyota Tundra will haul the 300,000-pound Endeavour the last quarter-mile.

Why the Tundra?

As it turns out, the Tundra is an apt choice for this mission. Toyota has had a longstanding partnership with the California Science Center -- in fact, there's already a Tundra on display at the Center, used as part of a demonstration on the physics of leverage. After Endeavour arrives, that Tundra will be replaced by the towing vehicle and remain on view for the forseeable future.

That said, it's obvious that Toyota -- and its ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi LA -- are milking this event for all the publicity it's worth. In fact, the two have created a special area of the Toyota website dedicated to the "Tundra Endeavour", where Toyota enthusiasts and space fans can learn more about Endeavour, the Tundra, and the planning that's gone into the towing stunt. (Presumably, they'll also be able to watch it happen live.)

Cue the pundits

Many have been critical of the costly, dangerous Space Shuttle program, but now that it's election season, everything associated with NASA has become political fodder. And of course, that includes the make of the vehicle towing Endeavour.

According to Detroit News, the Michigan Republican Party has criticized the Obama administration for allowing a foreign vehicle to pull Endeavour the symbolic quarter-mile to its new home. And while they were at it, they've criticized Obama for "outsourc[ing] our entire space program".

Our take

Like many writers, we do our best to set aside personal beliefs when commenting on stories like this. Our goal isn't to decide the issues for you, the reader, but to give you a fuller picture of the situation, so you can draw your own conclusions.

In this case, the Michigan GOP is correct when it says that the image of a Toyota Tundra towing Endeavour is full of symbolism. It may, in fact, become an iconic image, and the power of that image shouldn't be discounted.

And although the GOP didn't mention it, it's true that Detroit had very close ties to the Space Shuttle program. In fact, Chrysler's Space Division worked closely with NASA to develop early prototypes of a launch system for the Space Shuttle.


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Comments (9)
  1. When candidate Rommney isn't putting his foot in his mouth, his party seems eager to fill the gap. There has to be more important issues facing this country than which truck is used to tow the shuttle to a museum. Come on you politicians...wake up. This febble squaking is tiresome. Lets drop the two party system. It no longer works and the job is not getting done.
     
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  2. A key function of the space shuttle was that, to be a 'shuttle'. To where? 'INTERNATIONAL' Space Station - A project of 5 space agencies from USA, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada. So whether the Tundra is considered Japanese or American, they're representaion is appropriate.
     
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  3. One small correction: The Explorer is not a real shuttle: it's a full-scale model that's been on display at the Kennedy Space Center. It was given to Houston as sort of a booby-prize in reaction to public anger (and threats of legislative reprisals) that city that was home to the command center for every shuttle mission didn't get one of the retired Orbiters.
     
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  4. Go Tundra!
     
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  5. That's malarkey. Toyota is a "local" company here in LA, with headquarters maybe 5 miles from the scene of towing. They employ A LOT of people here, including my husband. They have contributed to the museum for years and paid for part of this move. It's INSULTING that the GOP would politicize it.
     
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  6. You're correct in that there is high symbolism in the space shuttle's stunt tow vehicle. But, where that vehicle is assembled is irrelevant. What is relevant is that an American brand, whether GM, Chrysler, or Ford, was not used in deference to a non-American, i.e., foreign, brand.
     
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  7. I am an American born and bred. Many moons ago my father sat me down and said to me that I have it made. I ask “how’s that?” He said “You were born a white male. You were born in the greatest country on the planet. You were born in the state of California.” I did not understand what he meant at the time except I was blessed, the world was mine to explore. That was over 30 years ago. I am still a young man but I have seen changes that have contradicted what my father told me.
    I love my country and I served her to the best of my ability. However, everything has changed the politics, rules, and laws. Everything today is made cheaply. Our auto market is a joke. Not one company can go their own way when creating or building vehicles. I find mys
     
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  8. I find myself looking to own foreign vehicles because they last longer and are more economically as well financially friendly. I read an article the other day about crash tests done with US vehicles and not one American made car passed, they all got “POORS”.
    The amount of time that the republicans are spending on this issue with the shuttle is a waist. They should be planning on how to efficiently and effectively get the vote out with the coming midterm elections. If this is such a big issue for Republicans (I am a Republican) then this tells me that we have no chance to take back this country. We would best spend our time on real issues like the IRS and the repeal of Obama Care. “Prioritize People Prioritize”. I Like the Tundra in fact I
     
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  9. I would like to own one, and am looking forward to watching it pull the shuttle.
     
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