The California Science Center in Los Angeles unveiled their newest exhibit Tuesday to the general public, NASA’s retired space shuttle Endeavour. After 25 missions to space and nearly 123 million miles traveled, Endeavour now serves to tell the story of the shuttle program and inspire future generations to pick up where she left off.
“I want to thank the people of California and the Los Angeles region for so enthusiastically welcoming Endeavour home,” said California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph during the public grand opening. “Today marks the beginning of Endeavour’s new mission to inspire the next generation of scientists and explorers.”
Rudolph was joined by California Governor Jerry Brown, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center Director David McBride, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts. Also on hand were several astronauts – James Kelly, Robert Kimbrough, Leland D. Melvin (NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education), Barbara Morgan (retired), and Garrett Reisman (retired) all were in attendance for the grand opening ceremony.
Mrs. Lynda Oschin was also present for the event. Endeavour’s home – the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Pavilion – is named after her late husband.
Chief Executive Officer of the Planetary Society and celebrity Bill Nye the Science Guy served as emcee for the grand opening ceremony. Local business and community leaders, as well as more than 500 school children, were all on hand to welcome Endeavour to her new role at the Science Center.
“We are delighted that the California Science Center will use Endeavour to inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers and we thank you for helping tell the story of NASA’s historic past as we begin to write the stories of the future today,” said NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Director David McBride. “The next chapter in space exploration begins now, and we’re standing on the shoulders of the men and women of the shuttle program to reach farther into the solar system. By relying on American ingenuity, American companies, and American workers to take over routine transportation to the space station and other low-Earth orbit destinations, NASA can focus on developing the new Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose vehicle that will take our astronauts further into space than we have ever gone before – to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.”
“Having Endeavour at the California Science Center will serve to motivate millions of young people to dream about possibilities and will attract people from around the world to our great city,” added Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “The Endeavour, as a historical treasure, will be a brilliant centerpiece for Los Angeles and will assist in our city’s economic revitalization.”
Endeavour’s dramatic journey to the California Science Center began last month with a final departure from her home port at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Riding piggyback atop a modified NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, Endeavour flew low over Florida’s “Space Coast” to give residents one final chance to say goodbye before heading west on a 3-day journey to California. Low flyovers of several areas were performed along the way to give citizens across the country an opportunity to see NASA’s youngest orbiter with air under her wings one last time. Stops at Ellington Field in Houston and NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base gave the public opportunities to view OV-105 (NASA’s official identification for Endeavour) before reaching her final destination.
Millions of residents in and around cities such as Houston, Austin, Sacramento, Tucson, San Francisco, and Los Angeles came out to witness Endeavour make her final historic flight, and over a million more came out several weeks later to watch as the orbiter navigated through the streets of Los Angeles in what was arguably the most dramatic 13 miles Endeavour ever traveled. Power lines had to be raised or removed all together, signs and stoplights had to be taken down, and trees had to be trimmed. Certain areas along the route required the computerized, multi-part shuttle transporter to zig-zag very precisely (and slowly) around utility poles, buildings, and trees, giving Endeavour inches of clearance as she made the trek through the city. Unexpected maintenance issues such as tire configuration changes and hydraulic leaks on the transporter added to the stress put on the crews responsible for moving the orbiter.
Moving Endeavour through city streets and neighborhoods was half the battle, ensuring public safety and crowd control to over one million people in attendance to witness the event was another obstacle all together. All along the 13-mile route people packed sidewalks, rooftops, and even climbed billboards to catch a glimpse of the once-in-a-lifetime event. The LAPD provided crowd control and security, and the LAFD was on standby for numerous medical emergencies, mostly related to heat exhaustion from standing in the sun all day – many waited in the streets for 10 hours or longer for their chance to see Endeavour travel by.
When all was said and done, Endeavour made it to her final resting place at the California Science Center without a scratch, and not one arrest was made during the three days it took to move the orbiter through the city. The crime rate actually dropped dramatically in the city during the three days it took Endeavour to move from LAX to the Science Center, although it has not been proven whether or not that coincidence can be credited to the space shuttle. LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck said he had never seen such cooperative crowds in his 35 years of service to the city. ”The best, most enthusiastic — this is the best crowd we’ve ever worked with,” he remarked.
Endeavour’s home inside the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion is only a temporary housing while the California Science Center (CSC) raises the money needed to construct a permanent Air and Space exhibit in the coming years – the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. The non-profit museum operates on private donations, and will therefore need some time to raise the additional $100 million dollars needed to fulfill their vision. When complete, the CSC hopes to display Endeavour in launch configuration, standing vertical and attached to a mock External Fuel Tank and twin Solid Rocket Boosters. With Endeavour as its centerpiece, the Air and Space Center will provide guests with opportunities to investigate atmospheric flight and the exploration of our universe, integrating hands-on exhibits with a unique collection of aircraft and spacecraft to encourage active learning and critical thinking.
The non-profit museum, which offers visitors free admission, estimates a 5-year gap expected between now and the final completion of their permanent Air and Space exhibit. Endeavour’s cross-country flight, transport through LA, and construction of the temporary Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Pavilion were all paid through private donations, and the same will be true for completing the permanent exhibit.
In addition, extra measures must be taken to ensure any facility housing Endeavour can withstand an earthquake, which is a detail that no other location displaying the other three orbiters has to deal with (New York City, Kennedy Space Center, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – each displaying Enterprise, Atlantis, and Discovery). Not only does any facility housing Endeavour need to withstand an earthquake, but the display itself must be flexible to absorb any shaking. The Arup Engineering firm has been providing support services for the Endeavour display pavilion since August 2011, and has implemented a structural design utilizing a base isolation concept to support Endeavour and protect the shuttle from the risks of a major earthquake.
“Four friction-pendulum seismic isolators will break the connection between Endeavour and the ground, dissipating the energy released in the event of an earthquake,” said Atila Zekioglu, Building Design Principal for Arup’s Los Angeles office and Project Director for the Endeavour Display Pavilion. “The seismic isolators enable Endeavour to glide gently back and forth on low-friction sliders, thus protecting the shuttle from the direct impact of an earthquake.”
The CSC was awarded Endeavour in April of 2011 after a nationwide competition was held by NASA to display their three retired orbiters. Discovery was awarded to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and Atlantis was awarded to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Discovery is already on display, and Atlantis will go on display in a new $100 million exhibit at her home port in Florida next summer. NASA’s orbiter test vehicle Enterprise, which was replaced by Discovery at the Smithsonian, is now on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.
Endeavour flew her last mission, STS-134, in May of 2011. Her final landing at Kennedy Space Center marked the end of a 25-year career with NASA, and technicians spent 16 months preparing the orbiter for her new home in California. Toxic hazards such as hypergols, fuels, oxidizers, and ammonia were all removed to prevent any leaks, drips, or out-gassing that could be dangerous to the public from occurring. Several systems were flushed of toxic hazards, or were removed all together. Hardware such as the space shuttle main engines, or SSME’s, were removed for re-use on future vehicles in the coming years, and replica engines were installed for her display. Engineers also spent a lot of time studying some of the original hardware which was as old as the shuttle itself, using the data collected to understand how well the engineering worked over the years, research that was not possible while Endeavour was still a “space-worthy” vehicle. That research will prove to be critical in developing better, more efficient, longer lasting hardware that will be used on future vehicles.
For more information about the California Science Center visit their website, www.californiasciencecenter.org
- Coverage of Endeavour’s move through Los Angeles to her new home at the California Science Center done in cooperation with Zero-G News.
BELOW: Photo Gallery of Endeavour’s exhibit at the California Science Center.