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Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center


Los Angeles is the only place you can see an authentic space shuttle on the West Coast! It’s the Endeavour, which flew 25 missions to space and one (very long mission) to get to the California Science Center and it’s permanent home. The best part? It’s totally FREE to see!


CONTENTS



Where is the Space Shuttle Endeavour?

The Endeavour is housed at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion as part of the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California. It’s currently in a temporary building, but they’ve recently started construction on a much larger project for its permanent home, which will take a few years to build. The space shuttle will continue to be on display in its temporary facility until it is repositioned into the new one in the same location.


The physical address for the California Science Center is: 700 Exposition Park Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90037. It’s located right next to the USC campus, just southwest of downtown LA.



How to Get to the California Science Center

The California Science Center is close to downtown Los Angeles, just south of the main campus of the University of Southern California in Exposition Park, meaning there are a ton of buses that will take you right by it. The LA Metro Subway E Line (Expo Line, as it was formerly called), drops off at the Expo Park/USC station stop right next to the California Science Center. You’ll have to walk through the beautiful Exposition Park Rose Garden to get to the entrance on the other side of the museum.


If you’re driving, you will want to park in the Blue Visitor Parking Structure, most easily entered from Figueroa Street. Use this link to get directions to the parking structure on Google Maps. Regular parking is $15 until 5:00pm and $18 after 5:00pm, but may increase significantly if there’s a big event going on at the Coliseum or the Banc of California Stadium, which are both right next door to the California Science Center. The good news is that all revenue from parking fees remains in Exposition Park to support security, maintenance and operation of the park and state museums, plus you can scan a QR code on your ticket to pay for parking right on your phone.


Our recommendation: take the E line there if you can. It will save you money on parking and you won’t have to worry about running into a big event you didn’t know would be happening. If you’re driving, check Expo Park’s master calendar of events before heading down just to know what you’re getting into.


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How to Get Tickets to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

Reservations to see the Endeavour and visit the other permanent exhibits at the California Science Center aren’t available because admission is FREE. However, the California Science Center also has an IMAX 3D theater showing various short “movies” to accompany their exhibits, which costs a small fee, so you can reserve those online in advance, as well as tickets to any temporary exhibit that has an entry fee. Visit their website for up to date information on rotating temporary exhibits and IMAX tickets.


Again, you do NOT need reservations or tickets to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour. I know it seems too good to be true, but it is totally free!


The California Science Center is open from 10am - 5pm every day. They are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.


Space Shuttle Endeavour Flying Over Golden Gate Bridge On Back Of Airplane In The Great Wide California Travel Blog

Fast Facts about the Endeavour

The Endeavour was commissioned in 1987 to restore faith in the space program after the disaster of the Challenger in 1986. It was built from spare parts made for other shuttles and it took 4 years to complete.


The Endeavour's name was chosen by President George H. W. Bush from a slew of options submitted by schools across the country. The shuttle is named after the British HMS Endeavour, the ship which took Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery, between 1768–1771. This is why the name is spelled in the British English manner, rather than the American English (without the ‘u’). The Space Shuttle even carried a piece of the original wood from Cook's ship inside the cockpit!


The Space Shuttle Endeavour’s first flight was on May 7, 1992 and its final, 25th mission, was flown in May of 2011, 19 years later.


It conducted the first servicing mission for the new Hubble Space Telescope.


It carried the first African-American woman into space.



More than twenty organizations submitted proposals to NASA for the display of the shuttle before NASA chose the California Science Center to be its new home. The Endeavour is the only Space Shuttle on the West Coast.


It was brought to Los Angeles on September 21, 2012, landing at LAX aboard the back of a modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier plane (see photo above). On October 11, the Space Shuttle started a three-day journey through the streets of LA to bring it to its new, permanent home.


In 2012, the Endeavour officially became the property of the California Science Center Foundation with a formal title transfer. Endeavour is the only space shuttle not still owned by the US Government.


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Our Experience

We’ve been down to the California Science Center a few times in the years we’ve lived in Los Angeles. It’s one of the places we like to take visitors because it’s free to get in and they always have something interesting to see. For some reason, in all the times we’ve been there, we’ve never visited the Endeavour, which is odd, because both of us are very into the idea of space and things that are related to space exploration. When my parents came to visit from Illinois, we knew it was finally time, after the Space Shuttle being here for ten years.


If you’re not going to get tickets for the IMAX theater or see one of the temporary exhibits, you can walk right into the Science Center. We double-checked with the info desk, and they encouraged us to make a donation, but reiterated that it wasn’t necessary in order to enjoy the museum.


We had limited time this day, and didn’t want to wear out my parents, so we moved straight to the Space Shuttle exhibit, bypassing the many other exhibits. There are big signs pointing you in the right direction, up the escalator to the starting point, but if you get confused, just ask one of the friendly employees.


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The exhibit starts with Endeavour Together: Parts and People, which has displays of a few artifacts that flew aboard the Endeavour during its 25 missions and highlights the massive effort it took to get the Shuttle to the California Science Center, endearingly titled Mission 26. You don’t HAVE to go through this exhibit before you go in to see the actual Shuttle, but you SHOULD. The build-up to seeing the Shuttle itself is a huge part of the inspirational experience.


There are some personal items from astronauts on display and it was fascinating to see some of the things they decided to take with them to space. They have the Rocketdyne Operations Support Center console that was used to supervise the Shuttle during missions, as well as the nose cone from the Endeavour that was used to help dissipate heat. There’s even a tire from the Shuttle used during landing that you can actually touch. And if you’re feeling adventurous, there are two shuttle simulators that allow you to ‘fly’ on the Endeavour for a mere $6, which you can purchase tickets for in advance or you can wait until you get there. We’ll definitely be doing this the next time we go!


Our favorite part of the Endeavour Together: Parts and People exhibit is the video of the Endeavour moving through the streets of Los Angeles and Inglewood to get from LAX to the California Science Center. It took three days and three nights to make its way a mere 12 miles through the streets because it barely fit through most of the time. And when I say barely, I mean BARELY. Poles holding power lines and street lights often needed to be removed, leaving some neighborhoods without power for extended periods of time. Watching the wings of the Shuttle move just mere inches away from balconies on apartment buildings is a crazy sight to behold. You can watch the video below:



From there, you move downstairs into the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, built specifically to house the Endeavour. Currently, the Space Shuttle Endeavour is displayed horizontally, allowing you to walk directly under it with it really not that far above your head, and it is awe-inspiring. I hadn’t felt this proud of who we are as a human race since visiting the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.


Personally, I like how the Shuttle is displayed inside the pavilion; it hovers above you like it’s about to land after a successful mission. I’ve been watching the Space program launches since I was a child and never realized just how big the Shuttle is. There’s a great virtual reality tour that allows you to see inside of the Shuttle, as actually getting in the Shuttle is impossible so it can be preserved.


However, its current display is temporary, and the California Science Center recently started construction on what will be its permanent display, which will take a few years to build. It will stand upright, attached to a giant orange fuel tank and two white rocket boosters, in the “ready for take-off” position, making it the only authentic display of its kind in the world.


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The orange fuel tank is already at the California Science Center as well, currently located just outside the pavilion where the Shuttle is. We wouldn’t have known to go out there to see it if it weren’t for one of the several very eager docents inside the pavilion insisting that we follow him out there. The delivery of the tank is also highlighted in the Endeavour Together: Parts and People exhibit, showing it coming from New Orleans through the Panama Canal via cargo ship to the port of Long Beach. The cargo ship actually rescued a few fishermen who were lost at sea along the way too; can you just imagine having that story to tell?!


Also currently on display inside the pavilion around the Space Shuttle Endeavour are the SpaceHab and one of the main engines. The SpaceHab was originally designed to carry tourists into space aboard the shuttles, but that program was nixed after the Challenger disaster, so it ended up being used for extra lab space for the crew instead and/or to carry supplies to the International Space Station. The engine is cool to see too, alongside some fast facts about the immense power it takes to get just a few people into space.



On the walls surrounding all of this, there are plaques dedicated to every mission the space shuttles flew over the 30 years they were in use. Each plaque lists which shuttle flew the mission, the crew aboard, the purpose of the mission, and the individual mission insignia. There are a LOT of missions that were flown, including the two unfortunate missions that ended in the destruction of the Challenger and the Columbia. It’s a miracle that a reusable shuttle was ever successful, and the plaques highlight just how innovative and successful the Space Shuttle Program was.


You can also stop by the gift shop inside the same building, right next to the Endeavour, to purchase all kinds of souvenirs. The money spent there will go towards funding the Endeavour’s permanent exhibit.


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Other Space Shuttles

Of the 6 space shuttles built by NASA, 4 remain, and all are retired. They are on display in different facilities around the country, but the Endeavour is the only one on the west coast.


The locations of the 4 remaining space shuttles:

  1. Endeavour is at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, CA. It is free to go see it!

  2. Enterprise is at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum in New York City. It never actually went to space because it was the first prototype, so it doesn’t have heat shields or engines. Entry fee to the museum is currently $33.

  3. Discovery is at the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is a Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, VA, just outside of Washington, DC. The Discovery flew the most missions into space, a total of 39! Admission is free, however, we can’t find specific reference to the space shuttle display on their website.

  4. Atlantis is at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, which is just outside of Orlando. Atlantis was the last shuttle to fly into space before the fleet was retired in 2011. Entry fee to the museum is currently $50.


Of course, the other 2 space shuttles, the Challenger and the Columbia, were both destroyed during missions. Ironically, the Challenger disaster is why the Endeavour was built: to restore faith in the space program. They used spare parts from the other shuttles to build it.


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Our Verdict

We cannot recommend visiting the Space Shuttle Endeavour enough, especially if you’re fascinated by space like we are, and it’s FREE so why wouldn’t you go?! It may not seem like a big deal to some people, but space travel is one of humanity’s greatest achievements, and it’s inspiring to see tangible evidence of what we are capable of. The California Science Center is a prime example of what we are always saying about our home city of Los Angeles: there is so much more to see here than Hollywood!



Quick Reference Guide

What

Where

How to Get There

The Expo Park/USC LA Metro E Line station stop is right outside the California Science Center. Parking is available, but costs $15+.

Time Commitment

We spent about an hour and a half going through both exhibits, but you could spend all day wandering around the California Science Center if you have the energy for it.

Cost

Free - The Endeavour and other permanent exhibits at the California Science Center are free of charge. The flight simulator costs $6.

Reservation Info

Reservations are not offered for the free exhibits at the California Science Center, but you can pre-book tickets for the IMAX shows and Endeavour Together Simulator on their website.

Our Verdict

It’s truly awe-inspiring to see a vehicle that’s actually been to space! It’s a great learning experience and is tangible evidence of what we are capable of. It’s something that everyone should see!


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Adam Neubauer Travel Writer For In The Great Wide Los Angeles Travel Blog By Locals

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