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Groundbreaking set for launchpad-like display of retired space shuttle Endeavour

The California Science Center in Los Angeles is set to begin of construction of a new museum that will display NASA's retired space shuttle Endeavour poised for launch.
The California Science Center in Los Angeles is set to begin of construction of a new museum that will display NASA's retired space shuttle Endeavour poised for launch. (Image credit: collectSPACE.com/California Science Center)

More than a decade after it was grounded, NASA's retired space shuttle Endeavour is soon to be the focus of a groundbreaking.

The California Science Center in Los Angeles is set to begin construction of the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, a new museum that will display Endeavour vertically, as if poised for another launch (opens in new tab), complete with a fuel tank and two side-mounted boosters.

"It will be an incredibly dramatic display, but it will also allow us to put on display the whole system," Jeffrey Rudolph, president and chief executive officer of the California Science Center (opens in new tab), said in an interview with collectSPACE.com. "The orbiter alone could not go into space. By putting the whole system on display, it will allow us to talk more about the engineering and science behind it and what it takes to go into space."

Endeavour: NASA's youngest space shuttle (reference)

NASA's retired space shuttle Endeavour on exhibit in the California Science Center's Samuel Oschin Display Pavilion in Los Angeles.

NASA's retired space shuttle Endeavour on exhibit in the California Science Center's Samuel Oschin Display Pavilion in Los Angeles. (Image credit: collectSPACE.com)

A ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, 11 years to the day after Endeavour returned from Earth orbit for the final time.

Decade on display

The last of NASA's five space shuttle orbiters to enter service, Endeavour, or OV-105, landed from its 25th and final mission on June 1, 2011. Fifteen months later, after NASA engineers stripped out its hazardous materials and removed its engines to be reused by moon-bound rockets, Endeavour was mounted to the top of a modified Boeing 747 and ferried from Florida to California (opens in new tab).

Touching down at Los Angeles International Airport on Sept. 21, 2012, Endeavour was lowered off its carrier aircraft and placed into a hangar to wait the next leg of its journey. "Mission 26," as it was dubbed, saw the orbiter embark on a three-day, 12-mile (19 kilometers) road trip (opens in new tab).

The last built-for-flight space shuttle external tank, ET-94, awaits its mating with the orbiter Endeavour in the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.

The last built-for-flight space shuttle external tank, ET-94, awaits its mating with the orbiter Endeavour in the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. (Image credit: California Science Center/Perry Roth-Johnson)

Rolling up to its new home on Oct. 16, 2012, the orbiter entered the then-new Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, a temporary building named after the late entrepreneur and philanthropist whose family foundation made a "transformational gift" to the science center. Two weeks later, on Oct. 31, the public was invited inside to get its first close look at the spacecraft (opens in new tab) on display.

Endeavour has been on horizontal exhibit ever since. In 2014, the science center opened the orbiter's payload bay doors to install a Spacehab module as a first, early step toward the shuttle's future exhibit (opens in new tab) in the Oschin Air and Space Center. A year later, NASA entered Endeavour's mid-deck to remove waste water tanks (opens in new tab) for reuse as a storage system aboard the International Space Station.

Space shuttle Endeavour will stand with all flight hardware, including its two solid rocket boosters.

Space shuttle Endeavour will stand with all flight hardware, including its two solid rocket boosters. (Image credit: California Science Center/Perry Roth-Johnson)

In 2016, NASA's last remaining built-for-flight space shuttle external tank, ET-94, completed its own journey (opens in new tab) from the New Orleans assembly facility where it was built to the California Science Center to eventually join Endeavour as part of its future vertical display. Similarly, in 2020, a pair of flight-worthy (though inert) solid rocket boosters were delivered (opens in new tab) by Northrop Grumman to the Mojave Air and Space Port in southern California to await becoming part of the science center's full shuttle stack.

Three-year endeavo(u)r

The June 1 ceremony will be attended by science center officials, local and state elected leaders and other special guests still to be announced. The event is not open to the public, though the science center plans to share updates on that day through its social media channels.

Set to rise adjacent to the California Science Center's main building, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is expected to take about three years to complete. Additional details, including when Endeavour's horizontal exhibit will close and when the vehicle is planned to go vertical, are expected to be revealed on June 1.

A 2020 artist's rendering of the space shuttle Endeavour exhibit in the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

A 2020 artist's rendering of the space shuttle Endeavour exhibit in the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. (Image credit: California Science Center/Ron McPherson)

Endeavour's current exhibit helped shape the plans for what is to come next.

"What I have seen in years of exhibiting Endeavour is that the public is fascinated by and love space travel, but the level of their understanding is still relatively limited," said Rudolph. "We have learned a lot over the years, and not just for this exhibit, but our whole approach has continued to evolve and grow."

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.