HOUSTON Snubbed by NASA in its bid for a retired space shuttle, it now seems Houston has won the next best prize a full-sized mock-up that s just as big and almost indistinguishable from an actual space shuttle.

Space Center Houston officials confirm they ve quietly negotiated a deal to take possession of a shuttle mock-up called Explorer that s now on display at the Kennedy Space Center.

Explorer has been a prime attraction to the Florida spaceport s visitor center, but it will soon be replaced by one of the retiring shuttles that flew in orbit. So officials at the Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston upset that the city lost its bid for a retired shuttle have been working out a deal to move Explorer to Houston.

It s the same size, said Richard Allen, CEO of Space Center Houston. I think one of the unique things about this is you ll be to go into the cockpit, you ll be able to go into the mid deck. You ll be able to look down into the cargo bay of this shuttle.

Explorer will be displayed adjacent to the Space Center Houston parking lot, the same spot where officials hoped to display one of the retired shuttles. And although it won t carry the same historic significance of a retired shuttle, the mock-up will probably offer greater public access, with staircases leading into the craft.

Space Center Houston now has a full-scale mock-up of a shuttle flight deck, looking something like the front-end of a spaceship poking through the wall of a museum. Tourists peering through plexi-glass can see roughly what s it s like to peer over the shoulders of a shuttle commander and pilot flying the spacecraft.

Visitors to Space Center Houston greeted the news about Explorer with mixed emotions. Emily Sylvester, who regularly visits the center with her 3-year-old son, still chafes at the idea that Houston is getting what amounts to a consolation prize.

I really think we should have the real thing, Sylvester said. But I guess we don t always get what we want. I mean, a mock-up, if it s close, that s close enough to the real thing, right?

Exactly how and when the shuttle mock-up would move to Houston is still under discussion. It s so large, Allen said, a barge might haul Explorer directly to Clear Lake, where it could be unloaded somewhere near the site of the Hilton Hotel.

Space Center Houston officials are still working out the details, but they hope to put Explorer on display sometime next year.

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