You're probably aware that the Space Shuttle Endeavour recently 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 to all adventurers, even toddlers and preschoolers, hoping to get a closer look.
The excitement surrounding the Endeavour's arrival means that timed reservations are recommended, but these are easy to get. Tickets are free, and the online booking fee is only $2 per ticket. Even if your toddler or preschooler doesn't get excited about the shuttle (or feels overwhelmed by how big it is), there are plenty of other things to see at the California Science Center, ranging from a kelp forest to a touch tank, so it's worth it to come for the shuttle and stay for other sights. We recommend avoiding weekday mornings if possible, so as not to get lost in a crowd of school groups. Unsurprisingly, the shuttle has already become a field trip favorite.
Kids love the Space Potty demo. Photo courtesy of the California Science Center
The Endeavour experience is more than just a walk around the perimeter of the space shuttle -- and while much of the displays will be enlightening for grown-ups, even preschoolers will be engaged (see space potty below). 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 (especially preschoolers) 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.
Zero-Gravity Food Fight
After the space potty, move on to the zero-gravity food fight at a display that shows astronauts playing with their food in ways never thought possible. For toddlers to school-age kids, this and the space potty will make the entire trip memorable.
Operations Support Center
Other features include the actual command station used to communicate with Endeavour when in flight. Kids will be entranced by the wall of screens on the Rocketdyne Operations Support Center (ROSC), which may remind them of something out of a movie or a video game.
Yes, there's a real opportunity to kick the enormous tires that have been to space and back -- a real treat for toddlers who are used to being told to stop kicking walls, toys, and furniture around the house. Wondering how much rubber gets worn off trying to land a shuttle? Plenty.
The flight simulator costs $5 extra, but kids will beg for a chance to try it. The ride lasts about seven minutes and blasts out of the Earth's atmosphere and back with all the expected virtual thrills.
There are fun hands-on demonstrations like the Lever Demonstration. Photo by Jeremy Miles/CC BY 2.0
The Endeavor Journey
If you missed the Endeavour when it flew over or drove across town, the Science Center's exhibit captures the slow-motion journey that the behemoth made down LA's city streets in a wide-screen documentary film. Seeing the effort that went into moving traffic lights and skimming trees 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 Space Shuttle
You can't touch it (and it may be worth talking to curious toddlers and preschoolers before you go), but walking under and around the Endeavor is impressive all the same. One unexpected treat is that two of the docents working at the exhibit actually worked on the Endeavour itself. We were fortunate enough to catch the docent who worked on construction of the shuttle in Palmdale. Every question my son had about the shuttle got a great (and deeply knowledgeable) answer, which was a big thrill.
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.
Top photo by Tomás Del Coro/CC BY 2.0