A Long Journey Home

by G. Rockmael

When the announcement was made that Los Angeles was chosen from the plethora of American cities vying for the honor of receiving one of the mothballed space shuttles, a surge of excitement enveloped Los Angeles.

As the space shuttle program is etched into the historical records for evermore, Angelenos eagerly awaited with baited breath for the arrival of the STS  Endeavour (deliberately spelled with British English in honor of Captain James Cook, a British explorer and captain in the Royal Navy, whose sailing ship he christened the HMS Endeavour, carried him on his maiden voyage of discovery), the “Cadillac” of space shuttles and one of America’s iconic symbols comparable to apple pie, baseball and Independence Day fireworks, at the California Science Center.

Before the shuttle made its way to the California Science Center, it made its way into the hearts and minds of all Americans who took pride in one of the most venerated symbols of America’s ambitious space program. Built to replace Challenger which disintegrated as it climbed towards the heavens, Endeavour was not just a replacement vehicle for the space shuttle fleet; it was an integral part of the American spirit.

Once fate determined that the Endeavour was returning home to rest near its birthplace, it had to piggyback atop another classic vehicle, a gutted 747 that had been specially modified to carry the 165,000 pound aerospace vehicle from the NASA space center in Florida to Los Angeles. Getting Endeavour to Los Angeles was the easy part; the trick was how to get Endeavour from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center.

It was an amazing sight to see the magnificent Endeavour winding its way through Los Angeles city streets. Angelenos have not expressed such joy and excitement for something traveling through the streets since the Rose Parade.

Now in its retirement home, the Endeavour is the crown jewel of Exposition Park and ready for the spotlight. If it could talk, Endeavour would have a myriad of adventure stories to tell, but it does “say” a lot about where America is and where it is going.

Upon entering the California Science Center’s Endeavour exhibit, visitors are introduced to an area populated with artifacts of the space shuttle program. Among the artifacts are well worn tires that everybody is welcome to touch, a fuel cell that powered the space shuttle’s electrical system, a suction toilet (you gotta’ see this) and a complete control room that looks like a set from Star Trek. If one’s thirst for adventure has not been quenched at the artifact exhibit,  a motion simulator is available to heighten the experience for a nominal fee.

While the artifact exhibit is interesting, the star of the show is displayed on the ground floor in a warehouse-like structure sheltering Endeavour. Viewers will certainly be awestruck with the space shuttle’s overwhelming size and grandeur while appreciating its contribution to America’s space program.

One interesting fact that is not readily apparent to space shuttle onlookers, the engine compartment is empty of Endeavour’s mighty power plant which is waiting to be reused in another aerospace craft that will be capable of orbital and deep space missions. Luckily Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and NASA have provided a space shuttle main engine on loan which is capable of delivering the equivalent output of four Hoover dams for museum  patrons to gaze at in jaw-dropping astonishment.

Bring a camera, preferably one with a panorama feature, because it is quite difficult to photograph the entire length (122 feet) of the space shuttle without this option.

It is advisable to visit Endeavour on a weekday in the early afternoon, when crowds including throngs of schoolchildren are at a minimum.
10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 blast-off to the California Science Center where you can feel like a courageous astronaut for a day!

California Science Center
700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles


Photo:  G. Rockmael