Unless you've been living under a rock - and perhaps even then - you're probably aware that the space shuttle Endeavour recently soared through our skies and rolled down our streets en route to its new home at the California Science Center's Samuel Oschin Pavilion. The new exhibit is now open, and LA's very own space shuttle is available for close inspection; it's our piece of outer space history in downtown LA (and the latest addition to the Mommy Poppins Bucket List of Things To Do with LA Kids Before They Grow Up!).
The excitement surrounding the Endeavour's arrival means that timed reservations are recommended for the foreseeable future, but these are easy to get; tickets are free, and the online booking fee is only $2 per ticket. We recommend avoiding weekday mornings if possible, so as not to get lost in a crowd of school groups, as the shuttle has already become a field trip favorite.
The Endeavour experience is more than just a walk around the perimeter of the space shuttle; the Science Center has a whole tour mapped out for guests, culminating at the Oschin Pavilion. A shuttle ticket gives you access to an exhibit about space travel, illustrating the experiences of astronauts on board the Endeavour. One highlight for kids of a certain age is the display on going to the potty in space. Kids get to check out an actual space potty (the one astronauts practiced on before Endeavour missions) at an interactive display that explains just what's so difficult about peeing without gravity. Wrinkle your nose if you like, but kids find this hysterical. What's more, they get to move on from the space potty to the zero-gravity food fight, at a display that shows astronauts playing with their food in ways never thought possible. Guess which two features my eight-year-old is still talking about.
Other features in the warm-up act include the actual command station used to communicate with Endeavour when in flight and an opportunity to kick tires that have been to space and back. And then there's the simulator. This costs $5 extra, but obviously kids want in. The ride lasts about seven minutes and blasts out of the Earth's atmosphere and back with all the expected virtual reality thrills.
If you missed the Endeavour when it flew over or drove across town, the Science Center's exhibit brings you up to speed. Without having to brave crowds or traffic, you get to experience the other-worldly, slow-motion journey that the behemoth made down LA's city streets in a wide-screen recap of the whole adventure. Seeing the effort that went into moving traffic lights and skimming trees to achieve a Randy's Donuts photo op and a ticker tape parade arrival at Exposition Park really is fascinating - to say nothing of the footage of the shuttle's flight path over the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, and the Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel. The film is a real treat.
After all of this preamble, one feels aptly prepared to take in the epic space craft. We can't touch it, but walking under and around it is impressive all the same. One unexpected treat is that two of the docents working in the shuttle pavilion actually worked on the Endeavour itself: one docent manned one of the mission control desks now on display in the exhibit, and we were fortunate enough to catch the second, who worked on the construction of the space shuttle in Palmdale. Every question my son had about every little number on every panel of the craft got a great answer from the guy who put those panels together - seriously neat-o!
Long term plans for the shuttle include building an entire Air and Space Center at the museum; in the meantime the shuttle exhibit is viewable daily from 10am-5pm at The Samuel Oschin Pavilion. Admission is free.