Monday, November 19, 2012

In the shuttle zone

Back in September, there was much excitement in L.A. when the Endeavour shuttle (on the back of a Boeing 747) flew overhead as it made its way to its final destination - the California Science Center, via LAX. School kids waited in their schoolgrounds to watch, and anywhere that had rooftop access was full to overflowing with spectators and their cameras. I was a little limited by the fact that Miss Pie needed a nap, so we were stuck at home. However, I followed the live broadcast on TV as she slept, and when the shuttle approached Griffith Park - not far away - I ran out to our balcony, in the hope that I'd get a glimpse. Sure enough, I heard the rumble of the accompanying fighter jets, looked up, and there it was. I wasn't prepared for my reaction as I tried to take a photo. My hands shook, and there was a definite lump in my throat. I guess you could say I got caught up in the hype I'd been hearing all morning... but there's nothing like witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Last Saturday, we had plans to hang out at L.A. Zoo with a bunch of friends but when we woke up, it was pouring so on a whim, Plan B was to head to the California Science Center and - if tickets were available - see the Endeavour shuttle. If not, we'd still have a lot of other things to see there.

The museum itself is free (and has some brilliant interactive displays that the Faery and her little mates were rather taken with). I didn't want to get my hopes up about seeing the shuttle, but we were able to get timed tickets not long after we arrived - 'timed' just meaning that we needed to join the queue to the exhibit at a certain time, and wait, but once inside we could stay as long as we liked. 

These tickets were only $2 each. Two dollars to see a space shuttle, y'all. When I think of all the museums I've been to over the years, in various cities, I am hard-pressed to think of one that would have charged so little. 

The shuttle is currently being displayed horizontally in a hangar-type building, until a large permanent exhibition structure is built - one which would allow it to be vertical. Horizontal, vertical... it didn't matter to me. It was incredible to view a piece of history up so close. Seeing it with American friends, and hearing their perspective on it, also hammered home to me how sad it is that this particular space programme is now over. It's truly the end of an era.

As we wandered around, taking in the time-lapse videos of preparation for launches, the kids' excitement wore off fairly quickly. For six-year-olds, they simply don't have the frame of reference that older generations do. I still have vivid memories of being in primary school and watching launches live on televisions that were wheeled into the classroom for such special occasions... but our kids? They just knew we were looking at a rocket ship that had been to space, but whatever. Next. Can we go back to the fish we were looking at before? I hope one day, when the Faery looks back at the photos, she'll remember bits and pieces, and understand how significant that 'big rocket' was, and how lucky she was to be able to see it up close. She's a bright kid, so I think she will one day.

At any rate, the day out was great. Both girls fell asleep almost immediately on the drive home... something which happens with the frequency of a blue moon. I call that a successful day.

Meanwhile, if you haven't seen the amazing time-lapse vide of the Endeavour making its way from LAX to the museum, through the streets of L.A, then I suggest you click here and watch it... now.


  1. They are great pics and I'm glad so many of the shuttles have been preserved and put on display for all to enjoy. Hard to believe that era is over now.

    J has told me that over the years, those where he lived in Northern California would sometimes hear the boom when the shuttle reentered the atmosphere to land. Pretty awesome stuff.

    I always wanted to see a launch but never made it there. The closest I can say I've been to any kind of shuttle history was the 1981 flight of Columbia.

    We were at the Gold Coast on holidays and there was a lot of publicity about the flight. We were told when we could go out and view the shuttle passing overhead so that's what we did. Everybody was on the back patio of the block of flats we were staying in, staring upward and waiting. Eventually we were rewarded when a tiny star-like object streaked across the sky.

    Many years later, J woke me from sleep early one morning to tell me that same shuttle appeared to be breaking into pieces over Texas. We sat up most of the night, looking at the images of Columbia disintegrating.

    All I could think of was that long ago night when there was only one point of light, not multiple trails that signified disaster. I remember Challenger well of course (as I think most people do) but for some reason, the loss of Columbia and her astronauts was such a shock. She seemed like an old friend by then.

    I am glad you got to see this one on the way to her new (if temporary) home. I hope many future generations will come to see these marvels. I also sincerely hope they are not the swansong of space exploration.

  2. Oh dear ... just prompted me to watch the first launch again on YouTube. Listening to them all cheering and yelling "Go baby, go!" Very moving to hear/see it again after all this time.

    1. You prompted me to visit Wikipedia and read all bout the Columbia disaster again. I do remember that day very clearly, and the sense of horror as the details emerged in the news. Awful. I remember a little about the Challenger disaster too, but I was 10 and I have a feeling the full scale of it was shielded from me.

      It must have been magical to see the streak of light in the sky from the Columbia that day on the Gold Coast. What a great memory to have! And I wonder what the boom of reentry sounded like - did J hear it himself?

      The disasters are impossible to forget, even as time goes on. Another one which is vivid to me is the Concorde. We lived in London at the time (and I was in Paris a month later, travelling past the site, which felt eery). In west London, on the (above ground) tube ride home from work, I often saw the Concorde in the distance, with its distinct silhouette. From my friend's flat in south London, you could hear the roar of it after it passed over. When the disaster happened and they ground the Concorde flights forever, it also felt like the end of an era.

      I wonder what future science breakthroughs or disasters our kids will feel a connection to?