Seeing Space Shuttle Endeavour

Posted on Mar 6, 2017 by Tom Bricker  •  Points of Interest  •  8 Comments

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The Space Shuttle Endeavour Exhibit at the California Science Center is one of the top things to do in Los Angeles, and an experience that I cannot recommend highly enough. In this post, I’ll share some of my photos and thoughts on the emotional (really!) experience of beholding Endeavour in person.

Few things capture our collective imaginations like space travel. For decades, Americans have held a sense of civic pride about the progress we’ve made in exploring space, as we have ‘competed’ with other nations in reaching significant milestones first. Ostensibly, it might seem somewhat odd that we feel such a vested interest in exploring space. Yet, given how it represents America’s sense of innovation and exploration, it feels perfectly right.

For me, standing under Space Shuttle Endeavour was the emotional realization of that civic pride in space travel. I’ve always enjoyed watching documentaries about NASA and reading about their latest advancements, but this made it all real. Being there under that majestic space shuttle, the creation of America’s best scientific, engineering, etc., minds was a powerful and truly moving experience. For all of the turmoil that might exist right now in the country, we still have people capable of creating this. Watching the general, awestruck reaction of other visitors reinforced the notion that we still have the national spirit that drove the progress of the space program–and so many other advances. It was, in a word, reassuring.

Okay, with that emotional tangent out of the way, let’s backtrack and cover some info about Space Shuttle Endeavour–since the exhibit itself covers all of this, I’ll keep this brief. Space Shuttle Endeavour is a retired NASA orbiter; the fifth and final operational shuttle built after the Challenger tragedy of 1986. It embarked on its first mission in May 1992 and its 25th(!!!) and final mission in May 2011.

After being retired, numerous organizations and cities submitted proposals to NASA for displays of Endeavour. It was ultimately awarded to Los Angeles, and the exhibit has a strong emphasis on Endeavour’s connection to Southern California, where all of the orbiters were built. This California connection is further reinforced through the excellent Mission 26: The Big Endeavour video that is shown at the California Science Center, showing the arduous process of transporting Endeavour from LAX to the California Science Center.

The LA Times has a great time lapse showing the process and the people behind this move, which further speaks to the civic behind the underlies the space program…

Currently, there are two “stages” to the exhibit at the California Science Center. The first is in the main building, where  Endeavour Together: Parts & People, provides important background and context. This companion exhibit features artifacts from Endeavour, including the external tank.

After experiencing Endeavour Together (I’d allow around 45 minutes for this exhibit), visitors head to a satellite building, the Samuel Oschin Pavilion to see Space Shuttle Endeavour. We spent about an hour wandering around Endeavour and its accompanying timelines/displays, most of which time was spent gazing up in dumfounded awe and glee.

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Even if you hate learning, these exhibits are incredibly captivating. (I find it impossible to wrap my mind around space travel, so learning about it is almost as much science fiction as it is science fact.) If there’s a dull way to present information about space travel, I’ve yet to see it.

We are naturally drawn to it, and whether it’s learning about space toilets, microwaves, or space food, these displays are riveting. (The balance between text and actual objects also helps.)

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Note that tickets (they’re only $2) and reserved entry times for the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit can be pre-purchased, but are now only necessary for weekends and holidays. The exhibit has been open for several years now, and the initial surge of guests has subsided. We encountered literally no one in line during our weekday visit, and I’d be surprised if the line ever exceeds 10 minutes at this point.

If you’re visiting during spring break or other potentially busy times, you might want to play it safe by scheduling something in advance, but if you want schedule flexibility or to make an impromptu visit, I wouldn’t worry about pre-purchasing tickets. Even on weekends and holidays, you can “pre-purchase” same-day timed entry tickets at the Science Center box office.

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As of right now, the California Science Center is still constructing the space shuttle’s permanent home, which will be in the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, meaning that Endeavour is currently on display in a temporary home in the Samuel Oschin Pavilion. The final display will have Endeavour upright, as well as other permanent elements.

Its current home very much feels temporary, but it also works in conveying a hangar kind of space. If you’re wondering whether you might want to wait to see the Endeavour until construction on the permanent pavilion is finished, I would not wait.

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The wow-piece of the display is already there, and having it displayed differently and with more supporting materials would be nice, but is far from essential to this being a captivating and compelling experience. (Moreover, it seems like construction on the permanent display is behind schedule, so it might be a bit of a wait.)

In fact, I’d consider Space Shuttle Endeavour (and the California Science Center, as a whole) to be a highlight of Los Angeles. The California Science Center is right up there with the best free experiences (there’s a $2 fee for Endeavour) in Southern California, and I’d put it alongside Griffith Observatory and Malibu or Laguna Beach as the top must-dos for every visitor to the area.

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Parking at the California Science Center is $12, which is about as cheap as you’re going to find it in downtown Los Angeles.

Additionally, if you want to make a day of the experience, the Science Center is within a 10-minute walk of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Exposition Park, and the California African American Museum.

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I never attended “space camp” nor have I visited the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, so I cannot compare the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit to those in Florida. However, based on this experience, that is now on my short-list of places to go, especially since it appears to be more fleshed-out.

Either way, it seems impossible that marveling at a space shuttle could ever become a “redundant” experience, so I would not hesitate recommending this to those who have visited Kennedy Space Center.

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Overall, I cannot imagine anyone not loving the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibits at the California Science Center. Space exploration is just undeniably cool, and NASA is right up there with the National Parks as something that represents the best of America. There are few things that compare with seeing a space shuttle in person, and I think the “photos don’t do it justice” cliche is very apt here. (If my gushing hasn’t already made it apparent, I highly, highly recommend visiting the California Science Center to see this!)

If you’re planning a California road trip or vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to see and do. If you enjoyed this post, please use the sharing buttons above to help spread the word via social media. I greatly appreciate it! 

Your Thoughts…

Have you been to the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibit at the California Science Center? What was your reaction to seeing it in person? Been to other space centers to which you can offer a comparison? Any tips of your own to add? Share your thoughts on this or anything else, or questions you have in the comments!

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8 Comments

  1. Bobby Butthole
    Mar 6, 2017

    Everyone should visit this. If you don’t like space I will beat the poop out of you.

  2. Kevin
    Mar 6, 2017

    We went into LA specifically to see this when we went out to visit Disneyland a 4-5 years ago. I’m mildly surprised it’s not in its final home yet; I guess Disney construction is not the only slow thing!

    As a kid who grew up with the space shuttle, seeing this was incredibly cool. (I had a poster on my bedroom wall of the shuttle with a white instead of orange fuel tank – only used for the first 2 missions!). We’ve since seen the Atlantis as well at Kennedy space center and I preferred the Endeavour, even in its temporary exhibit. The completed new exhibit should be awesome.

    We wanted to see the Enterprise when we were in NYC, but ran out of time. Sometime we’ll get back there and also to see the Discovery at the Smithsonian.

    • Tom Bricker
      Mar 7, 2017

      While I’m not totally sure (I can’t find anything in the local news), I suspect they ran into funding issues. Originally, the new wing was supposed to be finished already, but there’s silence as to when the project will be completed. Part of the push was for private donors, so maybe those haven’t come through?

      Thanks for sharing your experience relative to other space shuttles. I didn’t grow up at the height of the ‘space race’ so I probably wasn’t as exposed to America’s fixation on the space program, but even as a kid, I remember being obsessed with all things space, and wanting to go to space camp really badly.

  3. Craig
    Mar 7, 2017

    My family has seen 2 of the 4 Space Shuttles. The one at Udvar-Hazy is awesome and the one at Kennedy Space Center was the best. We will eventually get to this one, but are in no hurry. The Enterprise is a hard pass since that one never went to space. Best displays of the space shuttle. 1. KSP 2. UH 3. LA. You won’t be disappointed.

  4. Kacie
    Mar 7, 2017

    TOM you have got to go to Kennedy the next time you’re in Florida. DO IT. The presentation and reveal of Atlantis is just breathtaking. The Saturn V rocket on display…you cannot imagine it in your mind. You have to see it and stand under it and have lunch nearby it. Crazy.

    Meeting an astronaut is an exciting experience — we got to hear and meet Al Worden of the Apollo 15 mission to the moon. The freakin moon!!

    Kennedy Space Center is well-done and you won’t regret it.

    • Tom Bricker
      Mar 8, 2017

      Haha, it is definitely on our list! Just so many things to do and places to see…and so little time. :)

  5. Stacey
    Mar 13, 2017

    I agree with Kaci, Tom. Definetly get to KSP! We went in February for the first time after living in FL for 20 years & cried when we saw the Atlantis shuttle. Was truly amazing seeing so much history that is just inspiring! I would be truly amazed if you can fit the Apollo in 1 picture! That would show some real talent.

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