The space shuttle Endeavour, which was built in Palmdale to replace the destroyed Challenger shuttle, will be placed on display at the California Science Center in Exposition Park after its upcoming final mission, NASA announced today.
“Endeavour will now become the centerpiece of the third phase of the Science Center’s 25-year master plan and will be a major air and space gallery on the east end of our building,” center CEO Jeffrey N. Rudolph said.
When its final mission is completed, Endeavour will have traveled 115 million miles during 25 flights, carrying 139 people into orbit, according to NASA. It was the final shuttle built, but was the first to include safety improvements such as a drag parachute deployed on landing, and nose-wheel steering to prevent wear on the tires during runway rollout.
Construction on Endeavour began in 1987, the year after the space shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. Endeavour was completed in 1991.
Endeavour is scheduled to launch on its final mission April 29. The mission commander will be astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot earlier this year in Tucson.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden also announced retirement homes for the agency’s other shuttles, with Discovery going to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Atlantis to the Kennedy Space Center visitors’ complex in Florida and Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.
Speaking at Kennedy Space Center, Bolden choked up as he talked about the retirement of the shuttle program, but he said putting the shuttles on display will inspire a new generation of space travelers.
“People from across our nation and around the world will continue to learn from these amazing vehicles, and the stories of their crews and their missions,” Bolden said. “The shuttles will inspire many people who are now just in school to become the next generation of exploration leaders, and millions more who are just proud and passionate about our space program will also now have a chance to see a space shuttle in person.
“I want to congratulate all of these fine institutions and wish them many visitors and exciting programs with the space shuttle fleet. For all of them, take good care of our vehicles. They’ve served the nation well and we at NASA have a deep and abiding relationship and love affair with them that’s hard to put into words.”
It was unclear exactly when the shuttle would go on display. NASA tentatively planned to have them ready for delivery by early to mid-2012.
Rudolph said the Science Center would soon announce a fundraising effort to help pay for the planned new center where the shuttle will be housed. There is also a roughly $28 million to $29 million cost of preparing the shuttle for public display and transporting it.
He said the center presented a strong case for landing one of the shuttles, noting that it is already home to a Mercury and Apollo modules.
Rudolph also said the center shares “the same idea that NASA does, that air and space objects and science in general are critical to our nation’s future and we can use objects like this to inspire millions of children to pursue their education in learning and science.”
NASA’s decision drew praise from local officials.
“The news from NASA that L.A. is only one of four cities in the world to receive a treasure like the space shuttle Endeavour is an indication of the impact that the community has made in space exploration over the last several decades,” said Councilman Bernard Parks, who spearheaded the council’s support of the effort to bring the shuttle to Los Angeles. “It will be a major addition to the Science Center and a learning tool for the community unlike any other.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the decision made sense given Southern California’s extensive ties to the space program.
“California has a long history of supporting the shuttle program and we are proud to welcome this inspiring symbol of American scientific achievement and ingenuity to the Golden State,” Boxer said.
She noted that 53 space shuttle missions over the years have ended at Edwards Air Force Base, which acted as a secondary landing strip to Kennedy Space Center.