I don’t know how I managed to live six hours’ drive from Los Angeles and visit numerous times without seeing the California ScienCenter before now.
What a treat for a pilot like me who has always been fascinated by space travel! This place has so many aircraft and spacecraft on display, it’s amazing. (See the complete list below.)
I was fascinated by the Apollo-series Command Module, used as part of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission, and was even happier to find that it was displayed with the hatch open, so I could look inside.
The same was true of the Gemini 11 capsule, which has always been one of my favorites. The Gemini Project was designed to prove that maneuvering and docking in space was possible, a necessary first step before Apollo could take a crew to the Moon. I’ve always felt the that Gemini capsule seemed less like a capsule and more like a spacecraft. Maybe it’s because of the side-by-side pilot seating.
And then there was a Mercury capsule, the one that took Ham the chimpanzee into space. (I would have preferred to see a Mercury ship that carried one of the Mercury 7 astronauts, but at least it was real and not a mock-up.)
There are several airplanes at the museum, from a DC-8 to a T-38 and F-20 suspended over the main concourse. Some are outdoors, and subjected to the weather–that’s unfortunate, but a budgetary reality.
The star of the museum, which I had also forgotten was there, is the space shuttle Endeavour.
It gained a lot of attention in 2012, when it was moved by road from LAX to the museum, a 12-mile trip that took 68 hours and required a hundred people to pull off. The trip was meticulously documented in beautiful photographs, and they’re displayed at the museum as well.
When I first walked into the exhibit area, I was overwhelmed and felt like a kid again. The Endeavour is beautiful and, for a kid brought up in the 1960s, when space travel seemed destined to become a routine occurrence, enough to bring me to tears.
That same sentiment led to sadness, as I remembered that the reason the ship was in the museum at all was because the program had ended. Budget concerns make dreaming of a return to the Moon and beyond feel as remote as ever.
Still, I was happy to find that the museum also has one of the shuttle’s external fuel tanks, and has plans for an elaborate indoor exhibit of the shuttle, tank, and solid rocket boosters, set vertically, as if ready for launch.
Maybe it will inspire future generations to revive the dream of manned spaceflight.
Here’s a list of the vehicles the museum exhibits, courtesy of Wikipedia:
- Douglas DC-8 jetliner
- Lockheed F-104D Starfighter
- Lockheed A-12 Blackbird two-seater trainer, Serial Number 60-6927
- Replica Bell X-1 (movie prop from The Right Stuff)
- 1902 Wright Glider replica
- 1929 Velie Monocoupe
- Northrop T-38 Talon Jet Trainer, Serial Number 58-1196
- Northrop F-20 Tigershark
- McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet Serial Number 161725
- Capsule for Mercury-Redstone 2 which carried Ham the Chimp into space
- Capsule for Gemini 11
- Apollo-Soyuz Test Project Command Module
- Space Shuttle Endeavour
- Engineering prototype for Viking Lander
- Cassini-Huygens planetary probe (mock up)
- Pioneer 10 planetary probe
- Mariner IV planetary probe
- Pioneer-Venus planetary probe
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