By Signal Staff
The space shuttle Endeavour was lifted into its final position on Monday night at the Samuel Oschin Air Space Center, under construction at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
That position is pointed skyward, for the first time since Endeavour’s final flight in 2011.
As part of a project the Science Center dubs, “Go for Stack,” the orbiter — one of three remaining from the space shuttle era in which five operational shuttles were built — is being mated with a pair of solid rocket boosters and an external fuel tank to create a display that will show the shuttle and its “stack” as they would have appeared on the launch pad for any of Endeavour’s 25 missions into orbit.
The shuttle, having been on display since 2012 in a horizontal position at Exposition Park’s South Lawn between the Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, was moved to the new location and lifted by crane into its vertical “launch” position astride the boosters and fuel tank at the construction site of the new Samuel Oschin Air Space Center.
The 122-foot-long shuttle was lifted by a 450-foot crane at about 10 p.m. Monday, and by 1:45 a.m. Tuesday it had been placed alongside the boosters and fuel tank. Preliminary work to attach the orbiter to the stack continued in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The largest component of the stack, the external fuel tank, ET-94, weighs 65,000 pounds, stands 154 feet tall, has a diameter of 27.5 feet, and is the last remaining flight-qualified external tank in existence.
These enormous, orange-colored external tanks carried the propellants for the orbiters during launch. They were also the only component of a space shuttle system that were not reused.
Over the next several years, the 20-story, 200-foot-tall stack will be off display while the new museum facility is being built around it.
The shuttle program has a long history of ties to northern Los Angeles County, including the Santa Clarita Valley and the Antelope Valley. Multiple local aerospace contractors provided parts for the shuttle program, including Valencia’s HR Textron, now Woodward, which in the 1980s was the SCV’s largest employer.
More than 50 space shuttle missions landed at Edwards Air Force base in the Antelope Valley, and the signature “double sonic boom” could be heard in the SCV as the shuttles made their supersonic approach to Edwards.
Photographer Oscar Sol said workers at the Science Center were emotional upon seeing the shuttle finally lifted into place.
“One worker told me he was waiting for this date, and in two years when the location is ready to view the shuttle, he is retiring,” Sol said, adding, “From my perspective, it was a great feeling being there and documenting a project coming to life, and it will live in my heart forever.”
Of the remaining shuttles, Endeavour will be the only one displayed in the vertical launch position. The shuttles Atlantis and Discovery are on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia, respectively. The shuttle Enterprise, which didn’t go to space but was used for landing tests before the first shuttle launch in 1981, is on display at the Intrepid Museum in New York.
The shuttle Challenger was destroyed in an explosion shortly after launch in 1986 and the shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry in 2003. Each of the two ill-fated shuttles had a crew of seven, all of whom were killed.
The final shuttle mission was flown in 2011, bringing the shuttle era to an end after 135 missions spanning 30 years.
The future Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is a 200,000-square-foot expansion that will double the Science Center’s educational exhibition space, adding a collection of 100 authentic artifacts integrated with 100 new hands-on exhibits.
“As the third phase of the California Science Center’s three-phase, three-decade master plan to develop one of the world’s leading science learning centers, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will provide a one-of-a-kind educational opportunity for the Los Angeles community and guests from around the globe,” said a news release from the Science Center.
For more information, visit californiasciencecenter.org/goforstack.
Gallery: Photos by Oscar Sol/The Signal