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Endeavour

Started: 2022-01-08 16:45:08

Submitted: 2022-01-09 00:12:28

Visibility: World-readable

Face-to-face with a space shuttle

For breakfast, on our first day in Los Angeles after our late arrival by train, Kiesa found a French bakery around the block and came back to our hotel room with coffee and pastries.

The Last Bookstore
The Last Bookstore

It was almost noon by the time we emerged from our hotel to head to our first tourist stop of the day, The Last Bookstore, a few blocks away down 5th Street. This bookstore sprawled over two floors of an older downtown building, around a central atrium, with rows of cramped shelves on the upper level where my favorite section, science fiction, was shelved. The collection was an eclectic mixture of backlist and used books, plus some newer titles.

Book tunnel at The Last Bookstore
Book tunnel at The Last Bookstore

The most distinctive part of the bookstore was the books it used for decoration, including an elaborate book tunnel, probably twenty feet long, high enough to walk through. The book tunnel was crowded with people taking pictures, some of them pulling down their masks for the pictures as if one couldn't transmit COVID-19 while taking a picture.

Julian and Kiesa in the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore
Julian and Kiesa in the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore

The bookstore had a section of "decorative books" (older hardcovers), which presumably served as the source material for the book tunnel. They had another, smaller book sculpture in the modern American politics section (in the picture below I can see pictures of the two most recent former presidents, as well as the names of several more presidents on the titles of the books for sale).

Book circle at The Last Bookstore
Book circle at The Last Bookstore

After the bookstore we headed back out into the rain in downtown Los Angeles to the Pershing Square metro stop. I bought stored-value TAP cards for everyone, with an inexpensive all-day transit pass for $3.50 (just the price of two Metro rides, and we boarded the Metro to ride back to Union Station.

As we stepped out of our Lyft ride to our hotel early this morning, Kiesa realized that she had left Julian's backpack under the seat in her train room, and she'd missed it because the seats had been laid down into beds. Julian's backpack included books and other entertainment for the train, plus an older iPad. Kiesa had filed a lost-property report with Amtrak this morning, and because we hadn't gone far from the station, she wanted to drop by the station to ask in person after the backpack. We found the luggage service office on the second floor above the station concourse (where I recognized the top of the baggage conveyer belts dropping through the floor to feed the baggage claim carousels a floor below) and the baggage service person said the backpack was probably still on the train because they hadn't had a chance to clean up the train because it had come in late and they were disrupted by the standing water on the ground from two days of rain (and apparently they had enough spare trainsets that they didn't immediately need to send it back to Seattle as this morning's train). They'd keep an eye out for the backpack and let us know if they found it.

We headed back to the Metro and rode a couple of stops back through downtown to Metro Center, where we changed trains to a Santa Monica-bound tram operating on a line that I think is supposed to be teal, but I found it somewhat harder to distinguish against the blue line tram operating on the same tracks towards Long Beach. After a couple of blocks in an underground tunnel the tram emerged above ground to operate as a street-level light rail tram. We got off at the USC/Expo station and walked through the rain through a rose garden (dormant for the winter) and around a large fountain to the California Science Center in Expo Park.

To get into the museum we had to show our COVID-19 vaccine cards; the City of Los Angeles has imposed a vaccine-or-PCR-test mandate not just for indoor dining but also for indoor museums. I tried to orient myself with the museum map and figure out where I needed to go to see the space shuttle Endeavour. We headed upstairs (where most of the exhibits seemed to be, as well as the route we were supposed to go to get to the space shuttle, possibly because of some construction on the ground floor) and found a series of early spacecraft showing three generations of crewed American spaceflight: A Mercury-Redstone 2 module that flew Ham the chimpanzee into space; the Gemini 11 spacecraft; and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project command module.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project command module
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project command module

Julian was bored by looking at the spacecraft behind clear plastic walls (never mind that these were historic spacecraft flying one-of-a-kind missions) so we looked for something more interactive and found an outdoor exhibit with the top of the kelp forest on the floor below. Calvin found a reverse periscope that looked down into the water.

Calvin looks through an underwater periscope
Calvin looks through an underwater periscope

Julian found something to play with that was supposed to emulate how a barnacle has to catch food as it came swimming by; but Julian just appreciated being able to stick his hands into the tubes and grab the ping-pong balls flying around inside.

Neither of the kids wanted to go through the touch tank full of sea urchins (the mortal enemies of kelp) and starfish, but I wanted to touch the tide pool animals so I stuck my hands in the water and felt the spiny sea urchins and the slimy starfish and thought it was fascinating.

I took Calvin into the gallery of space artifacts that served as an opening exhibit for the space shuttle itself. The interpretive displays set the stage for the Space Shuttle program, and the construction of OV-105 itself as a replacement shuttle after Challenger was lost in 1986. The exhibits played up Southern California's connections to the Space Shuttle program. The rest of the gallery had a bunch of random exhibits: a Space Shuttle toilet, with a video talking around how it was used; the Mission Control-style control room where the engine vendor monitored the performance of the engines during launch; and a section of the external wall from the external fuel tank, showing how it was milled out of a single sheet of metal to form a waffle pattern, just as strong in the important dimensions but lighter weight. At the end of the gallery was a time-lapse movie showing the spacecraft being moved across Los Angeles to its new home at the museum.

We went downstairs and stepped outside into the rain then stepped into the temporary shed constructed to house the Space Shuttle; and I found myself face-to-face with a real Space Shuttle for the first time.

Space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center
Space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

I've seen one significant Space Shuttle-shaped object before: Enterprise, the non-orbiting glide-test model that I saw at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in 2007. At the time I saw Enterprise, the three surviving orbiters were flying regularly; since then, the shuttle fleet has been retired and Discovery has replaced Enterprise in northern Virginia. (So this means that I was within a couple of kilometers of Discovery when I flew out of Dulles last week, but my travel schedule was such that it was awkward to go visit the shuttle.)

Endeavour from the aft
Endeavour from the aft

I slowly walked around the shuttle, examining it from below and studying the control surfaces. The requirements of space launch and reentry meant the craft had minimal control surfaces, just enough to line up for a single-shot glide approach. The shuttle was an engineering marvel, and I was impressed that it could fly at all.

Endeavour's main engines
Endeavour's main engines

The side and back walls of the shed held a long line of signs covering every shuttle mission from 1981 to 2011. I walked along the wall, reading the signs, checking the dates and crew and remembering what was happening in my life and in the world during each of the flights. Most shuttle flights were illustrated with a photo of the launch or landing or a significant part of the mission in orbit. The two shuttles lost during flights, Challenger and Columbia, were illustrated with black-and-white crew portraits.

Under Endeavour
Under Endeavour

From below each of the thermal tiles were numbered and it was easy to see that they were all different. Some of the tiles were damaged; I wondered if that was from the last landing in 2011.

Endeavour
Endeavour

I spent half an hour walking around Endeavour, examining the spacecraft from every available angle, and marveling that I was in the same room as one of the most significant piece of space hardware ever flown.

Calvin and I departed the shed holding the shuttle and returned to the main body of the museum. We spent most of the rest of our time in the aquarium, on the ground floor surrounding the kelp forest, complete with a couple of leopard sharks stalking the sandy bottom of the tank and a very large tuna near the top.

Julian watches the leopard sharks
Julian watches the leopard sharks

We departed the museum when it closed at 17:00 and caught the tram back to Metro Center. We ate supper at Veggie Grill around the corner from our hotel, then returned to our room for the night.

USC/Expo station
USC/Expo station
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