Thursday, December 13, 2012

Space Shuttle Endeavor Comes to Los Angeles

On September 21, 2012 the space shuttle Endeavor flew into Los Angeles on the back of a specially equipped 747. Angelenos were treated to multiple fly-bys before the plane landed at LAX. In mid-October Endeavor was towed through the streets of Los Angeles, 13 miles, to the California Science Center. And just 3 weeks later, the whole world was invited in to see our beautiful shuttle in the flesh!

Liz and I decided to take the Metro train down to the California Science Center to see the Endeavor Exhibit as an experiment. We just weren’t sure what to expect. Would it be challenging? Scary? Easy? We parked our car at the free park and ride station at the Expo Line Terminal in Culver City, just 10 minutes drive from the Inn at Playa del Rey.  The parking lot is large and well-lit and we found an open space in no time. The machines outside the station accept cash or credit cards to purchase your fare. Unless you already have a TAP card, you’ll have to purchase one from the machine for $1.00 plus your fare. The card is reusable and reloadable.

We climbed the steep stairway to the platform (there is an elevator, too) and waited for the train. Within five minutes we had boarded and were on our way. The train itself is clean and well lit and full of passengers. Commuters are even allowed to bring their bikes on board.

Seven stops and seventeen minutes later we arrived at the Expo Park/USC station. We got a little lost as we exited the platform because it was so dark and we were both unfamiliar with the area. However, some friendly USC students pointed us in the right direction, and off we went. (Note: when you exit the station, cross the street to the left to get to the Science Center and the other museums at Exposition Park.)

Walking in to the California Science Center is an exciting prospect unto itself. You enter into a giant atrium about 40 feet high, filled with windows and promises of what is to come. It is free to see the Endeavor; however timed tickets are required and are available on their website.

We rode the escalator up the second level and followed the signs to the Endeavor exhibit. Upon entering the hall, we were invited to touch the actual tires. One of the educational and informative exhibits was the “space potty”, so we got to see what the bathroom on the Shuttle looks like and how it works. Another piece showed the actual kitchen and had a how the astronauts cook and eat. And Rocketdyne (ROSC) donated their entire mission control room to the Science Center so we could envision ourselves monitoring the Shuttle’s missions.

By this point, my anticipation to see the Endeavor was really starting to build. We stopped into the movie room and watched two videos. The first showed a time-lapse of what happens to the Shuttle in the two months before lift-off on a mission. The second showed Endeavor’s journey to Los Angeles and its trip down our city’s storied streets all the way to the Science Center. Now we couldn’t wait to see Endeavor up close!

Liz (l) and Nicole (r) in disguise!
We walked down another staircase and into the exposition hall. Endeavor is magnificently perched upon earthquake-proofed pillars, 15 feet above the ground. It was breathtaking. The orbiter is close enough to see each dent and ding in the complex shell of specialized tiles from its 25 missions into space. So real that you can almost imagine yourself climbing in and going for a ride.

I was actually overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Endeavor. So often in this day and age, we see things on television or in the movies, and in real life they just don’t compare. This one was different – you can never really get the scope of how huge and beautiful it is from television.

We read all of the placards and saw the colossal engines that push the shuttle into orbit. The whole exhibit is rather awe-inspiring, informative and well put-together. Definitely worth a trip, even though this is only Endeavor’s temporary exhibition space. A new addition to the Science Center, called the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, is currently being built and will be Endeavor’s permanent home.

We walked back to the street level platform on Exposition Blvd. and 17 minutes later we were right back where we started. I highly recommend a visit to the California Science Center!