Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour to Retire in Southern California

Today NASA announced the museums that were selected as recipients of the three operating space shuttles in its fleet. And I'm happy to report that the Space Shuttle Endeavour is slated to have a permanent home right here in Southern California.

The announcement was made on the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program's first flight (the Columbia, which was destroyed during re-entry in 2003) and the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight (Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's famous 1961 mission). More than 20 locations around the country submitted bids to give a home to one of the retired shuttles.

The Endeavour, which was awarded to Los Angeles' California Science Center, has been used on 24 missions. It has orbited the earth 4,429 times and traveled 103,149,636 miles. It will take its final flight on April 29 (when it will be flown by Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot and critically wounded outside of a grocery store last January).

Endeavour's return to Southern California is a homecoming, since all five space shuttle orbiters were fabricated in Downey, and assembled in Palmdale. And all shuttles were tested at Edwards Air Force Base just outside Palmdale, where 53 of NASA's 133 shuttle missions landed. I'm just glad there's one close enough to visit easily.

As for the others, the Atlantis, which will fly the last planned shuttle mission in June, will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. And the Discovery, which flew its final mission last month, will be displayed at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantily, Virginia, which Tim and I visited when we were in Washington last October.

While there, we saw the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a full-scale test vehicle used for flights in the atmosphere (it was not equipped with a propulsion system, and therefore not ready for spaceflight). Although Enterprise never flew in space, it introduced a new era in space transportation and was the flagship for a fleet of reusable shuttles.

To make room for the Discovery, NASA will be moving the Enterprise test vehicle to the Intrepid museum in New York. But I'm glad I got to see it at the Smithsonian last year before it makes its move to its final home. Yay for California for getting a shuttle!