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A Day at the California Science Center

The space shuttle Endeavour is the highlight of hundreds of fascinating exhibits at the California Science Center. – Greg Aragon / Beacon Media News

By Greg Aragon

A few months ago, I visited the California Science Center in Los Angeles (LA) to see the world-famous “King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh” exhibit. The display, the largest King Tut exhibition ever toured, was so expansive and interesting that I did not have time to see the many other jewels that the Science Center has to offer. So with King Tut leaving town, I decided to return to the center and do some scientific exploring.

The California Science Center offers fun and informative exhibits presented in interactive worlds. Through more than 100 hands-on experiences, guests can learn about human inventions and innovations, the life processes of living things and more. The Science Center also features fantastic special exhibitions that change all the time.

The current highlight at the Science Center is the permanent exhibit entitled: Mission 26: The Big Endeavour. Featuring the actual space shuttle Endeavour, the display features photographs highlighting some of the spectacular scenes witnessed during the shuttle’s years of service as a NASA orbiter from 1992 to 2011. During its service, the ship flew for the Hubble Space Telescope, delivered supplies to the International Space Station and more.

In 2012, the Endeavour was moved and retired to the Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the California Science Center. Moving the space shuttle across the United States was a massive undertaking. The journey began on the back of a Boeing 747 from Cape Canaveral, Florida to Edwards Air Force Base in California.

After landing at Los Angeles International Airport, the biggest adventure was yet to come as the 78 feet-wide, 57 feet-high and 122 feet-long space ship was transported through LA streets to its new home. Navigating the streets required the guidance and skill of over 100 people. Police controlled traffic; engineers and technicians lifted power lines and took down traffic lights while approximately 1.5 million people lined the sidewalks to celebrate the event. It is no surprise the shuttle is the biggest attraction at the Science Center.

Near Endeavour is another huge space artifact. The Mission 26: ET Comes Home exhibit highlights the 154 feet-long ET-94 tank, the last space shuttle external tank (ET) built for flight by NASA.

Another cool display is Ecosystems, which demonstrates how everything in the world is connected. Plants, animals, people, weather, water and soil are all are part of a delicate balance. The interactive exhibit shows how living things can change their environments and through a process called adaptation, environments can even change living things. The gallery is broken into eight zones, each of which explores a different ecological principle.

In the Creative World area, guests can learn about digital imaging, solar-powered cars, earthquakes and earthquake-resistant buildings. From the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the skyscrapers and suspension bridges of today, humans have strived to build structures that withstand the forces of time and nature. Visitors can also feel the blowing air of a wind tunnel, as it tests vehicle aerodynamic designs.

Besides exhibits there are also several attractions, and the box office sells an Attraction Pack for $9 to experience them all. One of the most thrilling is the high wire bicycle, in which riders pedal across a tight rope, 43 feet in the air, with only a net and a balancing weight below. The ride is a physics lesson, as the force of gravity on the attached counterweight offsets your weight so you do not fall, demonstrating the law of “center of gravity.”

To make a full day out of my visit to the Science Center, I bought a ticket for the IMAX Theatre, which is next door. On the stunning, seven-story movie screen I watched Pandas 3D, a mesmerizing documentary about a giant panda cub who was born in captivity and headed for life in the wild.

The Science Center is located in LA’s Exposition Park, across the street from the Expo Park/USC Station on the Metro Expo Line. Admission to permanent exhibits is free. On weekends there is a $3 fee to see Space Shuttle Endeavour. Parking is $12 cash only. For more information, visit californiasciencecenter.org.

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