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California Science Center to get space shuttle's pink slip

Museum and NASA officials will hold a ceremony Tuesday to formally transfer ownership of the retired Endeavour to the Exposition Park center. The space ship is expected to arrive late next year.

October 10, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times
  • Mike Fincke, Greg "Box" Johnson and Drew Feustel, three of the six-member crew of the space shuttle Endeavour, discuss the legacy of the craft at the California Science Center.
Mike Fincke, Greg "Box" Johnson and Drew Feustel, three of the… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

On Tuesday, the California Science Center will be one step closer to receiving what officials believe will be one of its most prized possessions — the retired space shuttle Endeavour.

Officials will hold a ceremony at the center to formally transfer ownership of NASA's newest space shuttle — worth $1,980,674,785 — to the state-run museum near downtown Los Angeles.

The museum is still working out how it will get Endeavour to L.A. and what its new home will look like. Museum President Jeffrey N. Rudolph told The Times that by late next year he hopes Endeavour will be paraded from Los Angeles International Airport to the museum on surface streets.

Q&A: Endeavor astronauts on their final mission and NASA's future

"We've concluded — don't do it in the middle of the night. Do it in the middle of the day, and you've got a great parade. We'll celebrate," Rudolph said. Officials are still finalizing a surface route.

Once it arrives at the museum in Exposition Park near USC, initial plans call for Endeavour to be displayed horizontally, like an airplane on a tarmac, in a temporary aluminum frame structure. It will be open to the public as a new, permanent Air and Space Center is built to the east.

His hope is that the permanent home would showcase the shuttle vertically, possibly attached to a replica of the booster rockets, as though the shuttle were being prepared for launch.

"We think it will allow people to access it at multiple levels," Rudolph said. He also hoped that the shuttle could be attached to the erector-set like structure that sits next to the shuttle as it is prepared for launch.

"Our thinking is to open up one of the payload bay doors so you can actually see it in the payload bay, and using it to talk about all the missions," such as the one to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, Rudolph said.

"We want it to feel like you're there," Rudolph said.

There will be some design challenges. Structural engineers will have to figure out how they'll lift the shuttle from a horizontal position to a vertical position. At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA has a huge, costly bridge crane to lift the space shuttle into vertical position, and the California Science Center will have to figure out some way to do that here.

And because the payload doors were designed to operate in zero gravity, opening them up at the museum will require additional supports. Engineers here will also have to make the design earthquake resistant.

The total cost to transport the shuttle to L.A. and build a new museum to house it is expected to be about $200 million. The museum has received promises from donors to fund the first $20 million, which will more than meet NASA's costs of cleaning Endeavour and transporting it to LAX.

The event Tuesday is expected to feature four of six crewmen from Endeavour's last flight in space: the commander of the mission, Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.); pilot Greg "Box" Johnson; and mission specialists Mike Fincke and Drew Feustel.

Q&A: Endeavor astronauts on their final mission and NASA's future

ron.lin@latimes.com

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