When I arrived in L.A., my friend David and I headed straight for the USC campus, to watch the ill-fated USC-Oregon game. As we walked toward the coliseum, David gestured at a large metal building and made an offhand remark, “The space shuttle is in there.”
That got my attention.
When the US space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011, the California Science Center was one of the venues selected to receive a decommissioned bird.
Endeavor, the last orbiter built, arrived in California via 747 on September 21st, after which it was famously driven through the streets of South Central L.A., requiring that telephone lines be removed and trees be trimmed. At the moment, it is sitting in a warehouse while funds are raised for its permanent home.
I want to go to there.
David and I booked our tickets (they’re not even charging patrons to see it, so fundraising must not be too great a problem) and hightailed it back to USC’s neighborhood.
Walking through an exhibit about the shuttle’s history- key components were built in California- I discovered a special connection to this shuttle… my shuttle. You see, it first rocketed off the Florida launchpad on my birthday in 1992.
Finally, we ventured into the hangar and saw it. Endeavour.
It’s huge, it’s fascinating, and it’s accessible- you can walk all around and even under it.
As I circled the orbiter, I overheard people saying, “It’s too bad that the shuttle isn’t flying anymore.” But keep in mind that the incredibly expensive shuttle program never met its goal of drastically driving down the cost of moving people and hardware into space. I’m a huge fan of the space program and get weak in the knees at a photo of the big blue marble from space. Yet I’ve also seen hungry people in Milwaukee and a sea of trash in Nepal. It seems to me that we need to think long and hard about how we allocate our high-flying resources when there are so many needs down here.
Endeavour will eventually be returned to its “natural” position when it is raised to point at the heavens and a new $200 million facility is built around it.
It was a great thrill to get a view of a real, live space shuttle before it’s even settled into its new home. Although the shuttle doesn’t do anything, I kept walking around it and examining it from different angles. After a while, it got a bit ridiculous, with me taking “just one more look” while David glanced toward the door.
I finally tore myself away from this majestic bird, this spaceship that carried the hopes and dreams of a nation into the heavens.