From Apollo to Endeavor: L.A.’s Rich Space History

There was no better time to be an Angeleno than the day the space shuttle Endeavour flew over the city. Whatever our neighborhood, job or family ties, we all shared equally in the thrill of watching Endeavour’s final flight over our homes, schools, offices and favorite landmarks. I think it’s impossible to truly recapture the joy of that day, but you can come pretty close by stopping by the California Science Center to see the 85-ton orbiter up close and horizontal. We went on a whim after school one day. It was more crowded than expected, but manageable and so cool to walk under Endeavour’s belly and see every ding and scratch it picked up in its amazing travels.

Here’s how a visit works: Timed tickets are required (free, but there’s a $2 per-ticket processing fee whether you get them online or on site). We sailed right in, but soon found ourselves surrounded by several after-school groups. You enter from the 2nd floor of the Science Center, walk through a brief but thorough exhibit on California’s space industry that includes a film about Endeavour’s history and a simulated shuttle ride ($5 a person), then you are given a purple chip and told to walk down a separate flight of stairs to enter the actual pavilion. For now, the shuttle is horizontal and housed in a temporary hangar, but the plan is to someday move it into a ready-for-takeoff position.

P.S. While you are in a cosmic frame of mind, consider visiting the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey. Built on the former NASA site that developed Apollo spacecraft, it is one of the last remaining vistages of a round-the-clock space hub that also oversaw assembly of the entire shuttle fleet after the Cold War. The complex closed in 1999, and it’s now a film studio (“Christmas with the Kranks”), medical center, and soon-to-be mall. The Columbia space center does make for a fine afternoon with the kids — interactive exhibits include a paper airplane-making station, rocket launcher, and design-your-own solar system. There is also some information on Downey’s role in space exploration; that may expand as preservationists and former employees voice their concerns that it is all disappearing with the demolition of so many buildings.

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