Last week I returned from a quick trip to LA, during which I popped in at the California Science Center to see the Endeavor, the last of the space shuttles, now all retired. It’s hard to believe it flew 25 missions, and I was fondly reminded of how I always hoped to catch an impromptu landing at Edwards Air Force Base, when I lived in LA. It was always a last minute decision, determined by the weather and conditions at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Hearing the sonic boom in the midst of the work day always made me pause and wish I could immediately transport myself to the landing site a couple hours away in the desert!
How cool is this image? After flying in on a 747 to LA’s airport, the shuttle was towed through the streets of LA to the museum. The route was selected after a team of engineers donated hundreds of hours to figuring out the best way to get the intact shuttle from the airport to the science center. They had to find streets that were wide enough, not too steep, and able to bear the weight of the 170,000-pound spacecraft. They used computer simulations and lasers to precisely measure distances to possible obstructions, like buildings to traffic lights. A lot of stuff had to be moved and it took seven months to elevate power lines so that the tail could clear them. Also, nearly 500 trees needed to go. The science center promised to not just replace them but plant even more in a 2-for-1 deal. Even with obstructions gone, the route was sometimes a tight squeeze. At some spots, there were clearances of just 6 inches or so!
You can find an awesome time lapse video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdqZyACCYZc
Do you know what these are? These are the tiles found on the underside of the shuttle. 24,200 tiles cover the outside and a single tile costs $2,000! The main ingredient is silica, which comes from sand. They are very light and fragile. You could crush one with your hands!
Before you walk into the hangar where the shuttle resides, you walk through a short but interesting exhibit about the shuttle and space. It’s especially appealing to kids and the young-at-heart, with small stations dedicated to issues like “Munching in Microgravity” and, what we all really want to know about: “Potty Breaks in Space.”
Only in LA: The shuttle sits on this to protect it in the event of an earthquake!
Not close to LA? Three other cities will house the remaining shuttles, including Cape Canaveral, Florida; New York and Chantilly, Virginia. Houston will host a walk-through prototype.