The morning of February 11th, I watched my second rocket launch. It was an awesome experience, made even better by the fact my family was able to watch with me. After the launch, we had to drive to San Diego, traveling through Los Angeles. the trip was going to be tight on schedule, as I had to catch a flight home from San Diego that evening. WIth the unpredictable LA traffic, we might get down there early, or we might get down there just in the nick of time to get on the flight. The drive from Lompoc to SAN was about 4.5 hours without traffic.
After about two hours on the road, we realized we were ahead of schedule and, according to Google, the traffic wasn’t too bad, so I started to entertain the idea that we might be able to make a stop in Los Angeles to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour. I looked for tickets on the web site of the California Science Center, which told me that there weren’t any tickets available until after we needed to leave Los Angeles, which was a major disappointment. I decided that the web wasn’t the final answer and that I would call the center’s box office and ask them, pleading my case if necessary. I made the call, and inevitably had to hold before I spoke with an agent. When the gentleman was answered, I was nervous and could barely talk. I explained my situation to him, that we were in a tight timeframe, and asked if there was any way we could get in to see the Space Shuttle. His answer… Yes. There was availability about the time we should arrive at the center. I jumped from nervous to cloud nine, I was going to see an orbiter closer than I had ever seen one before.
I had seen Endeavour twice before, as she was being transported to Los Angeles for display at California Science Center. My son and I woke up very early the morning of September 20, 2012, drove from Oakland to Boron and watched her land at Edwards Air Force Base. After the landing, we headed to Los Angeles and, the next day watched her land at LAX, which was her final landing ever. I wanted to go down to LA in October when she made the 12 mile journey through the streets of Los Angeles, but instead got to cheer my wife on while she ran her first half marathon. There are a couple of really amazing time lapses of the journey through the streets of LA, one from the LA Times, the other from Givot on Vimeo.
Arriving at Exposition Park, we paid the parking fee, parked and walked toward the Science Center. As we were walking in, I was so excited that I forgot to take any photographs of the building. We went up to the ticket desk and were told that tickets were FREE and where we should wait in line. Waiting there for about 5 minutes, I was trying to explain the importance of this event to my son, but didn’t do very well. We were allowed to go exit the line and head toward the shuttle. We were routed through what I’m sure is a great exhibit about Endeavour’s history in California (all the orbiters were built here), but I was too excited to stop and read anything, so we powered through the exhibit and headed to the Shuttle. We exited CSC’s main building, made the 30 second walk to the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion.
Entering the room, I was greeted with this site:
At which point, I basically started crying. Endeavour has been to space 25 times and I was standing within 10 yards of her. My wife, sensing my emotional state, said “I’ll watch the kids, you take your time.” Grateful for that gesture, I started walking and looking around. It a truly amazing experience. You can see all my pictures on Flickr.
What took me most aback was just how close visitors can get to this national treasure. Standing under Endeavour, I felt like I could reach up and touch her. I was amazed by the intricacy of the thermal protection system, the tiles and blankets that protected the vehicle as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. If you know me, you know that I am a shuttle, space, and NASA nut, so I’ve read a lot about the TPS. I know the stats, but being this close to the actual tiles that had done the job was amazing. Seeing the sheer number of tiles was amazing.
The visit was a truly personal experience. I felt like I was really in Endeavour’s presence, able to be close to her in a way that I never imagined possible. Here’s a view inside the bells of the forward RCS nozzles.
Here’s the hatch which the Astronauts who flew on Endeavour used to embark and/or disembark the vehicle while on the ground.
The sheer size of an orbiter is amazing. The best comparison is a Boeing 737, but I didn’t really get it until I walked into a room with an orbiter in it. The body of an orbiter is taller than that of a 737 and it seems longer to me. Endeavour’s cargo bay can carry a bus sized object and the length of the orbiter is longer than the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk.
I do want to say that the planned final display of Endeavour which will have her in an upright position, connected to tank and boosters, ready for launch, should be amazing.
With that said, I don’t think it’s going to be as personal of an experience as the current display. From the look of it, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to get as close to the orbiter as you can now. It will certainly be amazing, most likely breathtaking, and I will go see it, but I will always remember how up close and personal I was able to get to her in her current display.
We made it to San Diego on time and my flight home was uneventful. I’m so lucky that the visit to Endeavour worked. The space (and traffic) gods were smiling on me that weekend!
If you can make it to Los Angeles, a visit to Endeavour is certainly worth it. You won’t be disappointed! Tickets are free and it’s an experience you will never forget.