NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to end its 20-year-long career of space exploration when it lands Friday at Los Angeles International Airport. Riding across the country piggyback on a specialized 747 jet, Endeavour is scheduled to fly over the Getty Center, Disneyland and Exposition Park on Friday morning en route to LAX. From there it will be transported to the California Science Center at Exposition Park — just blocks from USC — where students will be able to see it displayed in its permanent home at the museum beginning in October.
Endeavour’s arrival is the talk of aerospace engineering professors at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, who welcome this new addition to the California Science Center with high hopes for its reception by students and the greater L.A. community.
“This is a fantastic development for Los Angeles and America in general,” said Mike Gruntman, a professor of astronautics at Viterbi. “If [students] are curious enough, they should go see Endeavour, a unique achievement in American space industry.”
Gruntman is confident that interested students will be able to volunteer or work at the Science Center as docents for the exhibit.
Gruntman and his colleague, aerospace and mechanical engineering Professor Steven Nutt, encouraged students of all majors to visit the space shuttle on display after the Oct. 30 opening of the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Display Pavilion exhibit, a project 20 years in the making.
“The curator and concept design team, along with our president, Jeffrey Rudolph, were putting together a plan for the museum back in 1992,” said spokeswoman Shell Amega at the Science Center. “In that plan they had envisioned one day displaying a flown space shuttle in the launch position. Just by coincidence, 1992 was the year Endeavour launched on its first mission.”
The $2 billion Endeavour was originally built to replace the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle, which crashed and killed seven astronauts in 1986. Since then, Endeavour has completed 25 missions, ranging from repairing the Hubble Telescope in 1993 to building the $100 billion International Space Station orbiting 250 miles above Earth. The shuttle is unique from other NASA shuttles in that it is reusable and all of its missions were manned.
“It’s a hybrid vehicle that takes off like a rocket but lands like an airplane,” Nutt said.
Students are also excited about the arrival of a space shuttle so close to campus.
“It’s one of the few things that have been in space that won’t be in a thousand pieces when it comes back,” said Trey Sorrells, a freshman majoring in aerospace engineering. “It’s incredible. A man has actually been inside — in space.”
Amega suggests students purchase timed tickets for the exhibit for $3 on the Science Center website in order to reserve a spot for Endeavour’s first weeks. During opening week, the museum will host “Space Fest” in conjunction with NASA, a collaboration that will feature booths and demonstrations about space exploration. The exhibit, which will display the shuttle in a pavilion on the west side of the Science Center, will also feature artifacts from Endeavour’s mission control and interactive videos.
“You won’t be able to go in the shuttle because it is so fragile, but it will feel like it because we pull out components from the shuttle like the kitchen and potty,” Amega said. “You will see a hilarious video of the astronauts showing visitors how to go to the bathroom in space. You’ll also get to touch the tires and see an up-close-and-personal view of the space tiles from below the shuttle.”
Though Endeavour certainly will add to the Science Center’s prominence once the shuttle arrives, transporting it from Florida to LAX to the Science Center creates a few logistical problems. Its 12-mile journey from storage to the Science Center on Oct. 13 will bring the shuttle very near to USC and threatens to worsen traffic congestion near campus.
“Final plans in conjunction with the LAPD and the L.A. Department of Transportation will be finalized in the next week or so,” said Tony Mazza, director of USC’s Department of Transportation, which is working to make transportation and security preparations for the day of Endeavour’s arrival.
“We will be fully staffed on that day, and Endeavour’s route will be on the opposite side of the Coliseum, coming in on Martin Luther King Boulevard and making a left on Robertson, so it really shouldn’t affect students that much,” Mazza said.
Weighing 170,000 pounds, measuring five stories high and sporting a 78-foot wingspan, Endeavour will make its way to the museum on a self-propelled mobile transport system with wheels that can rotate 360 degrees.
“It is one of the largest things to ever roll down an urban street,” Amega said. “But because of intense coordinated planning with city-wide agencies, there will be no power outages and limited closures — the freeway will open to traffic after Endeavour rolls past.”
Endeavour’s arrival close to campus also poses an environmental threat — clearing the shuttle’s path from LAX and the construction of a new pavilion to house the shuttle at the Science Center requires more than 400 trees to be cut down.
Though this has sparked controversy among residents and environmentalists, the Science Center has pledged to compensate for it by replanting four times as many trees and putting more money toward tree maintenance.
“We are very excited that this exhibit will provide inspiration for the next generation of innovators and explorers, because there’s nothing like seeing an amazing national treasure like the Endeavour,” Amega said. “If you think about it, it’s kind of like a superstar — it’s out of this world.”