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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!