Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Visit to the Space Shuttle Endeavour

The Space Shuttle has had a big influence on my life. Back in 1981 I got up early to watch the launch of Columbia (STS-1) on the dorm TV in college. That first launch attempt was scrubbed, but two days later there I was again, along with a few others, to watch it as rode skyward and began a new era of space exploration. A few days later I was able to catch its landing just after I got out of class. The room was filled and everyone was cheering and excited to see the Shuttle return safely to Earth. For the next mission (STS-2) Columbia's historic return to space, a friend in the dorm managed to get a pass for us to view the landing from Edwards Air Force Base. We made the road trip from Flagstaff, Arizona and caught its thrilling descent in person. It was a moving experience.

A few years later, the January, 1986 loss of the Challenger and all hands aboard on STS-51L had a profound impact on my life. I'll tell that story here another day, but the Shuttle that replaced Challenger was Endeavour. I never saw Endeavour in person until four years ago when it was retired and flying westward toward its new home in California. Thanks to astronaut Mark Kelly, the 747 carrying it made a low flyover of the University of Arizona campus in Tucson.

I managed to get a few memorable shots of the flyover (including the one above) as the Shuttle made its last flight. From there, the Shuttle made an amazing 12-mile journey across Los Angeles to its new home at the California Science Center. It's been nearly four years since that happened, but the time-lapse movie of its move is magical to watch--even if you've seen it before.

I live in California now and I finally had the chance to go and see Endeavour in person this weekend and she is a beauty from up close.

Here's the view upon entering her hangar. We arrived right when the Science Center opened and made a beeline for the Shuttle and as a result, even though it was a Saturday morning, there weren't many people there at the time. By the way, if you visit on a holiday or weekend you need to make reservations.

The shot above is from the other side. I managed to forget my DSLR camera, but my iPhone in panorama mode worked wonderfully well in capturing the 122-foot long Shuttle Orbiter.

Endeavour's nose.
And Tail.
A view of some of the heat-protective tiles on the Shuttle's underside.

All good museums give you the opportunity to buy stuff before you leave and the California Science Center has its fair share of cool Shuttle stuff right there in the hanger with it. I didn't buy one of these, but they have a stuffed Shuttle complete with stuffed Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and a stuffed External Tank (ET). It is all neatly held together with Velcro (a space program spinoff). Somebody in the gift shop got the brilliant idea to take some of them and turn them into a display. Here's how it looks:
That's the full launch stack at bottom. The SRBs are separating in the middle and the Shuttle has cast off the ET at top. Very nice. By the way, if you want to watch all 135 Shuttle launches at once, check out this amazing video which also can also be seen at the Science Center.

A Space Shuttle Main Engine
 There are lots of other cool displays around the Shuttle and upstairs in the main building, with plenty of mission-flown artifacts. The Center also has a Mercury capsule ("flown" by Ham, the chimp), the Gemini 11 spacecraft, the Apollo-Soyuz Command Module, Ken Mattingly's Apollo 16 spacesuit, a nice collection of meteorites and scale models robotic explorers & telescopes that have flown in space too.
All-in-all, the center is a great place to visit for space enthusiasts.

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