As most of the world knows by now, Space Shuttle Endeavour, the replacement for the Challenger and the last of the vehicles in NASA’s shuttle program, arrived in Los Angeles in September. Before landing at LAX, the shuttle flew over many landmarks and institutions in the area such as the Hollywood sign, JPL, downtown… and my deck! I was lucky enough to get a photo with my point and shoot as she flew over.
In October, Endeavour was transported to the California Science Center in Exposition Park (across the street from the University of Southern California south of downtown). I had intended to visit at some later date after all the excitement had died down.
But a friend had extra tickets so, although I really had not scheduled the time (too much going on right now), I decided to jump on the opportunity.
I took the Expo Line train from Culver City to the stop just footsteps away from the entrance to the Science Center. I arrived about 12:30 for the 1:00pm showing. The place was elbow to elbow with kids of every ilk. At first I felt like I wanted to avoid the crowds and just get back on the train. But I decided to take a more positive attitude and I was glad that so many children had the opportunity to see, not just the shuttle, but the Science Museum too.
So much better than taking the kiddiewinks to a violent movie or plopping them in front of some video game for hours on end. These youngsters were out experiencing real life. More than a few would be inspired by what they were seeing and grow up to be scientists and astronauts. So, armed by that thought I swam through the waves of little humanity.
At the gateway to the exhibit, the schedule was being adhered to strictly. I was upstairs at 12:50 but the ticket time remained at 12:45 and people with later tickets were being asked to step aside. I was checking my watch every minute. 12:51, 12;52… 12;57, 12:58… no go. Just after 1:00pm by my watch, the sign changed to 1:00pm… yesss… but as fast as I moved I was still way back in the line. Everybody was very anxious to get in there!
Visitors move through several galleries with displays relating to the history of the aerospace industry in southern California (where the Endeavour and the other shuttles were built). One of my favorite sections was the installation of the actual control center (donated by Rocketdyne). On the main screen was a video of one of the launches.
I also enjoyed the big screen film of Endeavour’s journey from LAX through the streets of Los Angeles. That was when I began to appreciate the size of this vehicle. Flying overhead on the back of a 747 (I think) it looked pretty small. But when I saw how it was having difficulty maneuvering past buildings, trees and utility poles, it became evident that this was no small plane. The festive atmosphere enjoyed by the thousands of people who came out to greet her came across the screen (I was sitting in the front row) and I felt like I was there.
Then the film ended and it was the magic moment to follow the trail to the ship herself. The route took us downstairs through the museum and out to the temporary shed which is the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion.
All I can say is “WOW!” I was really not prepared for the massive size of the shuttle. She is displayed horizontally off the ground which allowed us to walk under her. (When she is moved to her permanent location she will be displayed upright in liftoff position.)
It’s times like this that I wish I had a better camera. My trusty Olympus SP-350 does a great job for a point and shoot. Compact enough to keep in my purse but sturdy enough to get a good grip, I love all of its features… but I do sometimes have camera envy when I see people with their SLRs. But that is a whole other long story.
There are panels posted along the walls with information about the missions of the various shuttles. And illuminated panels under the shuttle display more interesting facts. But there is only so much my feeble brain can absorb. The shuttle herself is so overwhelming that it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.
I hope my photos do a reasonable job of representing my experience. But really, this is not something that can be described in words or photos. There are no substitutes for a real life, in the moment experience… and I hope there never is. So, my recommendation is to take the train or bus, or jump in your car, or walk as fast as you can to see the Endeavour in all her majesty.
(Photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)