The last space shuttle orbiter ever built, Endeavour, also happened to be the last one to make a flight of sorts: this past week, Endeavour arrived in Los Angeles, bound for her retirement home at the California Science Center.
When I visited the CSC this past summer, it was packed with school children, as usual, sometimes to a point where the only sane thing to do was to flee to a less crowded area of the complex.... Watching the gently swaying kelp in the giant saltwater aquarium for a few minutes usually did the trick for me (gently swaying kelp isn’t that cool when you’re 8 years old, but triggering a flood in a desert river bed one floor up most certainly is!).
In June, Endeavour’s new home was still nothing but a construction site — they were still pouring concrete for the floor at that point. There were a few girders around the perimeter, but nothing that would have hinted at the future celebrity resident. Except for the little piece of paper tacked onto the window pane that assured you that the mess outside would become quite the luxury home for the retired long distance voyager.
Like other shuttles, Endeavour made her final trip riding piggy back on a specially modified 747 Jumbo Jet (loyal Our Space readers will, of course, remember our exploration of that very airplane). The odd couple buzzed a few California landmarks with adoring crowds beneath taking millions of pictures and cheering.
Endeavour landed at Los Angeles International Airport where she was rolled into a large hangar so she could be hoisted off the large transport aircraft. The final leg of her journey lies still ahead: a triumphant trek through the streets of the city (and if you thought everyday LA traffic jams were legendary, wait until the pictures of THAT day hit the presses!). And in a little over a month, her new home will open to the public, hopefully inspiring the throngs of kids who will visit the center in the months and years to come.
Seeing a piece of space hardware in a museum can be a very touching experience — to think of the incredible amounts of thought, work and yes, love, that went into building the spacecraft, to quietly recall the thrill of its launch, to remember the soaring success of its mission and finally its safe landing — that’s quite a head trip right there. And the more you know about a spacecraft, the more profound your encounter will be.
Keep that in mind the next time you go to a museum. This is no place for rubbernecking. It’s a place of celebration, of gratitude, of inspiration, a place where your imagination can take flight and maybe a young person will suddenly know in their heart that this is what they want to do: to go beyond all barriers and explore.
It’s what we human beings are so good at.
So — thanks, Endeavour, and all the other shuttles. Thanks for inspiring us in the past, and thanks for the many dreams you may still give to us in the future.
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 our_space2@