Space Shuttle Endeavour – California Science Centre


I arrived back in Los Angeles yesterday for the first time since September 2012 and just had to head back out to the California Science Centre to see the new and impressive addition to their air and space exhibits –  Space Shuttle Endeavour (Orbiter Vehicle OV-105). Endeavour was first launched in 1992 and completed her last space flight in May 2011.

Space Shuttle Endeavour
Space Shuttle Endeavour
Space Shuttle Endeavour California Science Centre
Space Shuttle Endeavour

Interestingly the shuttle sits on this huge metal stand which has been designed to protect Endeavour in the advent of an earthquake. The shuttle will move with the shaking of the earth to avoid damage that would occur if it was affixed to plinths or sitting on concrete.

Space Shuttle Endeavour
The belly and nose of Endeavour
Space Shuttle Endeavour Rocket Engines
Space Shuttle Endeavour Rocket Engines
Space Shuttle rocket engine California Science Centre
A Space Shuttle rocket engine

Endeavour was delivered to Los Angeles by NASA on September 21st, 2012 on the back of a special Boeing 747 shuttle transporter. This shuttle delivery completed a career of 25 space missions by Endeavour for NASA, including delivering the first US component of the International Space Station.

Space Shuttle Endeavour over Ventura California September 2012 NASA
Space Shuttle Endeavour over Ventura, California September 21st 2012 (source: NASA)

Unfortunately I missed Endeavour’s arrival last year by just a few days, and I also missed the spectacle of transporting a Space Shuttle by road from the airport to the museum. They show a great short film at the museum on the slow and meticulous process to deliver Endeavour safely through the streets of Los Angeles whilst barely missing trees, poles and houses!

Space Shuttle Endeavour transported through the streets of LA in 2012 (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Space Shuttle Endeavour transported through the streets of LA in 2012 (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Endeavour was one of 5 Space Shuttles to serve with NASA on operational space missions. The other operational shuttles were Challenger (OV-099) – first launched in 1983 and tragically the first shuttle lost in a disaster in 1986 with the loss of all onboard; Columbia (OV-102) – first launched in 1981 and tragically also lost with all her crew in 2003; Discovery (OV-103) – first launched in 1984 and retired from space missions in March 2011 and Atlantis (OV-104) the last operational shuttle, she was first launched in 1985 and completed her last space mission in July 2011.

Challenger lifts off just moments before disaster in 1986
Challenger lifts off just moments before disaster in 1986 (Source: MPI/Getty Images)

There actually are two other shuttles of sorts. One is Enterprise (OV-101) which was used to perform shuttle test flights in the atmosphere, with the first flight taking place in February 1977. Although it looks like the other shuttles, Enterprise was not capable of space flight as it was not fitted with heat shields or engines. At one stage NASA did consider refitting her for space flight but due to design changes in the operational Columbia shuttle it was deemed too expensive to refit and never went ahead. In 1985 Enterprise was retired and sent to the Smithsonian Aviation Museum in Washington D.C. and later transferred to their Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre in Virginia (today it is on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City after the Smithsonian received Discovery in 2012).

Space Shuttle Enterprise 2010
Space Shuttle Enterprise 2010

The other “shuttle” is the Space Shuttle Trainer (FFT – Full Fuselage Trainer) used by NASA for 30 years to train all shuttle crews. It was never a complete shuttle and was only used on the ground to train crews under simulation. Today the trainer resides in the Museum of Flight in Seattle where it was delivered in 2012.

Space Shuttle Trainer at NASA
Shuttle Trainer (Source: NASA)

I have seen a number of these shuttles over the years including Discovery, Atlantis, Enterprise andthe trainer (in pieces). I first saw Discovery in 1998 on a tour of Cape Kennedy as it was awaiting launch a few days later (I never saw it get launched, but this mission eventually returned the then Senator John Glenn into space – he was the first American astronaut to be sent into orbit around Earth in 1962 aboard a Mercury spacecraft and this shuttle launch was only his second time into space). The only shuttle launch I ever saw was Atlantis at Cape Kennedy in 2010. That was an amazing experience – the noise and vibration in the air was incredible!

Space Shuttle Atlantis Cape Kennedy USA
Space Shuttle Atlantis 2010

I saw Enterprise at the Smithsonian in Virginia in 2010 and the trainer components following their delivery to Seattle aboard NASA’s amazing looking transport aircraft the Super Guppy in 2012. The trainer is now complete and on display at the Museum of Flight (this is the only version of the shuttle that you can tour inside of).

Space Shuttle trainer nose component - Seattle 2012
Space Shuttle trainer nose component – Seattle 2012
Space Shuttle Enterprise
Enterprise 2010

In addition to the NASA shuttles I have also been inside the Soviet Union’s version of the shuttle, Buran when it was on tour in Sydney, Australia in 2000 and I have also seen a test unit Buran in 2007 in Gorky Park, Moscow. The Buran program had only one unmanned space flight in 1988. The program was eventually cancelled due to cost and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Buran Soviet Union Space Shuttle 1988
Buran 1988 with a MiG-25PU chase plane
Buran test unit at Gorky Park, Moscow 2007
Buran test unit at Gorky Park, Moscow 2007

The size and scale of the shuttles are impressive. To see Endeavour up so close and to be able to walk around underneath it gives you a great insight into the construction and size of the shuttle. Especially seeing all the heat shield tiles that make up the underside of the fuselage and wings to protect the shuttle upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Space Shuttle Endeavour Heat Shield
Endeavour Heat Shield Tiles

The science centre has provided some specifications  and important statistics for  Endeavour as follows:

  • Inaugural launch date: May 7, 1992
  • Total number of fliers: 173
  • Total number of orbits: 4,671
  • Total distance traveled: 197,761, 262 km / 122,883,151 miles
  • Time in space: 299 days
  • Orbiter length: 37.2 metres / 122 feet
  • Orbiter height on runway: 17.4 metres / 57 feet
  • Wingspan: 23.8 metres / 78 feet
  • Manufacturer: Rockwell International Corporation in Palmdale, California

I thoroughly recommend a visit to the California Science Centre to see Endeavour. Entry into the museum is free and the only cost to see the shuttle is a $2 timed entry booking fee. Well worth it!

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