October 14, 2011
— Space shuttle Endeavour's transfer from NASA to the California Science Center for its public display was signed and sealed Tuesday (Oct. 11). Now all that remains for the retired orbiter is for it to be delivered — a feat local leaders promise will be as large a spectacle as it is a challenge.
"This is going to be a big, big event and a big, big object, and it is going to be a lot of work to get it but we couldn't be prouder," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at the title transfer ceremony held at the science center.
Using, appropriately enough, pressurized space pens to sign oversized title certificates, NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator Richard Keegan and the California Science Center's (CSC) President Jeffrey Rudolph signed over and accepted the orbiter.
"The transfer of Endeavour, now done, from NASA to the California Science Center doesn't commemorate the end of Endeavour's work but the start of its next mission," Rudolph said. "We're committed to be excellent stewards for Endeavour and making sure it is successful on its new mission of advancing science learning and encouraging a passion for exploration as it was on its missions."
NASA Excess Property Transfer Order releasing space shuttle Endeavour to the California Science Center. (Click to enlarge.)
Endeavour's delivery from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the west coast is not expected until next fall. In the interim, the space agency will continue preparing the spacecraft to be safe for public display while retaining its three main engines and other hardware for possible use with future launch vehicles.
The CSC meanwhile, will use the time to construct a new temporary building to house Endeavour and raise the $200 million it needs to build a new Air and Space Center where the shuttle will stand, vertically, as its centerpiece.
Endeavour is the first of NASA's three retired space-flown orbiters to have its ownership transferred since the space shuttle program ended in August. Shuttle Discovery's title will be signed over to the Smithsonian after its arrival in Virginia, planned for next April. Atlantis will remain NASA property at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Shuttle Enterprise, which didn't fly in space but was used for atmospheric test flights, is similarly set to be given to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City next year.
Mother of all parades
Just as it did when it landed in California after seven of its 25 space missions, only in reverse, Endeavour will make its final cross country trip from Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles atop a modified Boeing 747 airliner.
Once on the ground at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the shuttle will hit the road for the science center.
"It is going to circle [flying above] the LA area three times and then we're going to have a parade. The mother of all parades!" Villaraigosa announced. "People will be lining up the street from LAX through the great city of Inglewood, down Martin Luther King Boulevard — it is going to be a sight to be seen."
Endeavour will be moved the 13 miles from LAX to the CSC on an overland transporter, as seen here with Challenger in 1982.
At 122 feet (38 meters) long and a wingspan of 78 feet (24 meters), the shuttle is a much wider load than usual LA traffic. Los Angeles and neighboring Inglewood will need to remove and replace street signs, traffic lights, trees and other obstacles along Endeavour's way. Even then, the 13 miles between the airport and CSC will still be a slow roll using a NASA-furnished "overland transporter" — a wheeled-trailer — for the road trip.
"It is going to be amazing watching this space shuttle inch its way through the streets, going instead of 17,500 miles an hour [like when it was in orbit], maybe 1 mile per hour," Mike Fincke, an astronaut on Endeavour's STS-134 final flight crew, told collectSPACE during a press conference at the science center. "It's going to be a really motivating day I think for all us to watch the space shuttle inch its way here."
"It's going to be like the Pied Piper leading the kids. There are going to be so many people coming [here] and getting inspired. I'm really enthused about it. I think the team here has done a lot of homework. They've got a lot of work to go but I think they are going to pull it off brilliantly," Fincke said.
Street signs, traffic lights, power lines and trees will need to be removed to clear the way for space shuttle Endeavour.
When Endeavour finally rolls up to the science center, a display building will be ready to house it. Construction on the new exhibit hall is set to begin soon.
"We've picked pretty much the design of what we're going to do in the location. Fortunately we have a space where it fits. The flow will be through the science center because it has to be an environmentally enclosed space that is also secure. We can provide that," CSC Vice President William Harris told collectSPACE.
But that display, which will exhibit Endeavour horizontally as if it just landed back from space, is intended only to be temporary. For its permanent exhibit, the CSC is planning something much taller.
Launch pad for education
As currently planned, four years after arriving at the CSC, Endeavour will move again. But rather than moving over land, it will instead be going up.
"You know they're going to display this in the vertical with solid rocket boosters and an external tank. It is going to be an incredible exhibit if that all comes to fruition," said STS-134 commander Mark Kelly.
Endeavour, seen here being lifted at Kennedy Space Center, will be lifted again to be displayed in the vertical at the CSC.
Though the details are still to be worked out, such as if real or replica booster and tank components will be used, the CSC plans Endeavour's permanent exhibition to show the vehicle as it appeared on the launch pad.
"Endeavour will be the centerpiece of our Air and Space Center, where air and spacecraft will be combined with engaging hands-on exhibits to help our guests understand the science and engineering of atmospheric flight and space exploration," Rudolph said.
The 200,000 square-foot expansion will offer visitors only the second full "stack" shuttle display in the country and the only one in the vertical position.
The towering exhibit may ultimately look like something dreamed up by the nearby movie studios, but that should be because of what Endeavour actually accomplished, the astronauts who flew the shuttle said.
"What I would hope the museum would do here is to not use creative license to alter it, to make it perhaps more sensational but not realistic. Space shuttle Endeavour is beautiful as she is," said STS-134 pilot Greg Johnson.
"Don't Hollywood it up. It's Hollywood enough," Fincke said.
Creating a realistic exhibit will still take a Hollywood-size budget. The CSC has set a goal of raising $200 million to build the new Air and Space Center.
"We've already secured about $20 million in support in a really short amount of time and we have many active conversations going on with other philanthropists in the region," Harris said. "The wonderful thing about being in California is that we're in a community of aerospace and there are so many people here who are passionate about the topic and want to be involved. That's why we launched the Team Endeavour tile effort because we want everyone to be a part of this."
The CSC is seeking sponsors for the space shuttle's tiles, the black and white ceramic blocks that cover the bottom and part of the top of Endeavour and which protected the shuttle during reentry into Earth's atmosphere.
California Science Center graphic showing the tiled areas on space shuttle Endeavour now available to be sponsored.
"[Endeavour's] considered a treasure so you cannot write your name on a tile but we'll have a virtual representation in digital form once the gallery is completed, like a large flat screen. It will also be visible through our website. So you will eventually be associated with a tile, one of the 20,000 thermal protection tiles on Endeavour," Harris said.
"We feel it's a wonderful way to feel as part of the orbiter."
Tile sponsorships begin at $1,000 and can be paid through monthly installments.
Dream come true
"We're looking forward to Endeavour having a good home here at the California Science Center," Kelly said.
The CSC has been looking forward to a shuttle arriving for two decades.
"When we were planning a new science center 20 years ago and developing a 25 year master plan, we envisioned a major air and space center that would inspire our guests to learn about flight and space travel and explore our universe and beyond. In those early conceptual plans, we dreamed of having on exhibit the most complex and sophisticated flying machine conceived by man — the shuttle," Rudolph said.
"Well, dreams come true."