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A Real NASA Space Shuttle in Los Angeles? Yep! Why You Need to Visit Mission 26: The Big Endeavor Exhibit at the California Science Center
I’ve been a fan of astronomy for as long as I can remember. Whether reading up on planets, catching documentaries covering NASA’s countless feats, or learning about the physics of the universe, the subject has always grabbed my attention for its realm of unlimited possibilities that bring about an ever-evolving mix of concepts, equations, designs, and missions that constantly test the limits of the human imagination.
What’s more, I especially love catching blockbuster sci-fi flicks like Independence Day, Armageddon, and Star Wars, that explore space-themed disaster scenarios that mankind may very well face in the future during our quest to reach 'infinity and beyond'; you know, man vs. alien, man vs. asteroid, and, well, man vs. Death Star!
Additionally, nothing makes a space nerd more proud than observing big scientific achievements in the fields of space travel and exploration such as the recent successful test landing of Space X Agency's reusable rockets and NASA's deployment of the Curiosity Rover on Mars back in 2012.
With Russia's launching of the Sputnik satellite and NASA's landing on the moon being before my time, having the opportunity to witness these fascinating accomplishments in modern day, real time— as opposed to reading about them in history books—is a fascinating experience. In fact, one of my main life's goals is to visit NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and watch a space shuttle launch. That adventure currently withholds the #1 spot on my growing bucket list of things to do over my lifetime. And even as I've surely caught well over a thousand launches across TV shows, documentaries, and in the movies, there's nothing like viewing the action up close and witnessing American achievement at its best.
Furthermore, one related but smaller scaled goal that I’ve had the opportunity to have accomplished occurred in April of 2015 when I was able to receive an up close and personal look at NASA's very own Endeavour Space Shuttle at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. During my blissful 2 week trip home from working as an ESL Teacher in China, I couldn’t help but catch wind of the flood of posters hanging from street lamps all across Los Angeles advertising the exhibit at the museum.
Having lived in China since 2012, I missed the Endeavor Shuttle's epic, nationally headlined voyage across State lines. That’s right, it was flown from Florida all the way to Los Angeles International Airport and then towed to the museum, passing through many of the streets near my community and making way for an unbelievable scene. With only a few days in town left to spare, I, along with my sister and 4yr. old niece, made our way to the California Science Center on a mildly sunny afternoon to check out the exhibit.
You can watch an incredible time-lapse video of the event, here.
We arrived at the museum and began our exploration by first venturing over into several other themed exhibitions and zones, including the Creative World and Ecosystems, where we had the chance to observe a few live snakes, tortoises, scorpions, sea creatures, and, up close.
Lucky for me, the 2nd floor walkway was decked out with real astronaut suits and satellites that were actually used in space.
Next up was a stop over at the Body Works exhibit, which consist of a 50-foot long robotic human that provides an entertaining and insightful look at the human body and homeostasis. The best memory I have is of my 5yr. old niece being to scared to enter the room!
Before long we finally arrived at Mission 26: The Big Endeavour exhibit. The first half of the exhibition provided an informational and visually in-depth look at the process of getting the Endeavour Space Shuttle to its final destination at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion of the California Science Center. There were tons of amazing photos and videos of the shuttle being towed through Los Angeles with thousands of spectators crowding the streets at every turn. I absolutely wish I had been there!
And then it happened; we finally landed at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion and were standing right before the Endeavour Space Shuttle. H-A-L-L-E-L-U-J-A-H! H-A-L-L-E-L-U-J-A-H! Did you see the bright golden light burst down from above the clouds too?
Catching a NASA space shuttle up close for the first time was one of the most EPIC experiences I’ve ever had. As we moved around the shuttle we made sure to examine the displays on the walls that covered information about the Endeavor's crew, voyages, missions, and more. I learned that at 78ft. wide and 122 ft. long, for instance, Endeavour completed 25 missions for a total of 299 days in space and was also used to provide the first service mission for the Hubble Telescope along with the first U.S. component of the International Space Station. Awesome!
Signs directly adjacent to the shuttle also displayed a number of fun facts about its various elements. The black material covering the shuttle’s base, for instance, was actually a special foam that helped to protect the ship by absorbing heat when re-entering Earth's atmosphere.
We also had a chance to inspect the shuttle’s colossal engines. They were certainly the largest engines I had ever seen in my life.
After about 45 minutes we snapped a few pictures in front of the shuttle and I headed over to the gift shop to purchase a NASA T-shirt and refrigerator magnet—souvenirs I could show off to my friends back in China.
Visiting the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibition at the California Science Center was an absolute blast. The display of an actual NASA shuttle combined with in-depth facts and information about its significant role in the space agency's history was a great presentation of American scientific achievement in the fields of space travel and exploration.
Within a few years I'll have hopefully had the chance to witness a live space shuttle launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and over the next decade and more, will expect to further witness a wide range of new breakthroughs and discoveries in the realm of astronomy. Most importantly, though, I will continue to make my way over to the nearest movie theaters to catch the latest sci-fi flicks!
To learn more about the Endeavour Shuttle Exhibition, head over to the California Science Center website.