If you’ve been following my adventures for a while, you’ll know that I’m a nerd. Among other things, I’m a great big science, air, and space nerd. I’d seen nearly all of the Space Shuttles with my own eyes, except Endeavour. Really. Let me count the ways:
- Enterprise: At the Udvar-Hazy Center before it moved to New York.
- Columbia: In orbit, flying over my house as a kid. Through binoculars you can even see the distinctive Shuttle shape.
- Challenger: Same story as Columbia. I was in middle school when it exploded, so this one hit me hard.
- Discovery: At the Udvar-Hazy Center after it replaced Enterprise, because of course the Smithsonian wants one that actually went to space.
- Atlantis: During a night launch its orange flame streaked over western Massachusetts just 2-3 minutes after launch. It’s the fastest thing I’ve ever seen in the sky. (Now it’s on display at Kennedy Space Center. I’ll visit the next time I’m back that way to get a better look when it’s not accelerating to 17,500 mph.)
But now, I’m just outside Los Angeles, where Endeavour is on display at the California Science Center. Visiting and seeing the last one — both for me personally, and the last one built — was a must-see while I’m here.
One thing I appreciated is that the Shuttle is unrestored, as you can see from this tile damage on the underside. This would’ve been fixed before the next flight, but no, since it wouldn’t fly again, they left it for authenticity.
NASA removed the main engines (they’ll continue to use them on the Artemis rocket) but installed the nozzles on Endeavour to complete the look. There’s also one full engine on display next to it.
As impressive as this display is, they have even bigger plans. This rendering shows what they have in mind, the full stack set up inside a new building. Kennedy Space Center has a tank and two solid rocket boosters on display, but no one has the full stack like this. The California Science Center already has the Shuttle components they need to do this, besides Endeavour itself.
This is the last external tank in existence. It’s the only non-reusable part of the Shuttle, so whenever it launched the tank always burned up in the atmosphere. This one was intended for Columbia‘s next mission after it didn’t make it back in one piece. According to the nice woman in the picture, Elizabeth, this was the “sister tank” of the one on Columbia for its final launch, the one that shed foam that catastrophically destroyed the leading edge of its wing. This tank was a crucial part of the investigation to figure out what went wrong. (They have a pair of solid rocket boosters, too, at a “secret location.”)
Other Shuttle components were on display, too — a set of wheels from its landing gear, a fuel cell that generated electricity and water, a toilet (zero gravity presents unique challenges for those bodily processes), and a mock-up of mission control.
Elsewhere they had other spacecraft on display, too. The Mercury capsule was the first to fly with a living being on board, the chimpanzee Ham. There’s also Gemini 11, and the Apollo-Soyuz capsule, the first one ever to dock with a Russian capsule, and also the final Apollo capsule to ever fly in space. various mockups of unmanned probes were on display too, like this Viking engineering mock-up.
The van remained safely at Carolyn’s (I rode the bike to take full advantage of its extra legal maneuverability in California), but I still brought its headliner a present to celebrate the end of the Route 66 journey.
And so, yet another dream of mine, seeing all the Space Shuttles, is fulfilled. So what’s next? More on that later…