If you ever find yourself in Los Angeles with time on your hands and little money in your pocket, do not despair: there are plenty of attractions that are perfectly free — as in, they won’t cost you a dime.
One of them is the California Science Center. Its general collection is always available, you pay an extra fee for the IMAX Theatre and special temporary exhibits, but trust me, it will take you a long time to just get through the free stuff. At times you will find yourself lost is a sea of school children, and there are tons of activities for those groups.
But the real star of the show is Endeavour — the last space shuttle orbiter ever built. The space plane is so popular that you need to obtain special admission tickets that funnel in a limited number of people per hour to keep the space from becoming hopelessly overcrowded.
I felt like a kid on Christmas morning as I waited in line for my group to get the go-ahead. And you walk through a door into a unassuming large metal shed — and there she is.
I’m not one to get starstruck easily, but golly gee, did it ever hit me.
Twenty-five trips into space, millions of miles traveled, so many hopes and dreams — it was quite overwhelming.
You can’t touch the spacecraft, but you can get so close it almost feels like it. Propped up on the metal struts that were part of the towing assembly to transport Endeavour through the streets of Los Angeles to her final home she is just above your head, and you can walk around underneath and marvel at the many heat tiles creating an intricate pattern.
Endeavour is surrounded by plaques commemorating every shuttle mission ever flown, with crew pictures of the astronauts and a description of their accomplishments. You can get up close and personal with a space shuttle main engine and its jaw-dropping jungle of wires and tubes. There are videos you can watch and of course the inevitable gift shop.
There’s also a model of what Endeavour’s final retirement home will look like; the metal shed is only temporary until — several years from now — a whole new multistory wing of the museum can be completed.
Still, nothing comes close to the Big Bird herself. She’s filthy — no efforts were made to clean her up after her last voyage into orbit. All the dirt is for real, the badge of honor of a beautiful vessel that was put out to pasture way before her time. Certified for 100 flights into space, Endeavour completed a mere quarter of that before the shuttle program was terminated.
The thought ultimately left me a little sad. Endeavour shouldn’t be there, in that metal shed. She should be out there, carrying astronauts to the International Space Station, or serving as an orbiting outpost herself, supporting important research in science, medicine and engineering.
Alas, the beautiful bird is now caged forever. May she soar high and free in our memories and hearts for all time!
Visit Endeavour online at http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/
Beate Czogalla is the Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has had a lifelong interest in space exploration and has been a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ NASA for many years. She can be reached at email@example.com