NASA’s Endeavour Is Ready for Liftoff at LA’s California Science Center

The retired shuttle was successfully installed upright in a process never before attempted outside a NASA or Air Force facility.

Crane lifts up large white space shuttle
The space shuttle Endeavour was lifted by a crane into its final display position. Courtesy California Science Center

The Endeavour space shuttle is once again ready for liftoff. Sort of.

The retired orbiter has been mounted in a launch position at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, making it the world’s only authentic space shuttle system on display.

The last time Endeavour was prepared to blast off was more than a decade ago when it successfully delivered various spare parts to the International Space Station during its final mission. The shuttle completed twenty-five trips in total, starting with a 1992 mission to rescue a communications satellite.

In April of 2011, NASA announced that Endeavour would be given to the California Science Center for a permanent display. While it has been shown at the museum for more than a decade in a horizontal position, the California Science Center in July of last year began the process of assembling the ready-to-launch display that will be a star attraction in its upcoming Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center expansion.

The project, known as “Go For Stack,” began with the installation of the bottom segments of the shuttle’s side boosters. The museum then attached its rocket motors and rusty orange external fuel tank. Finally, earlier this week, the California Science Center successfully attached Endeavour, which measures 122 feet and weighs 178,000 pounds, to the space shuttle stack.

Hoisted with a 450-foot crane, it was the first time such an undertaking was accomplished outside of a NASA or Air Force facility. The “hard mate,” the process of firmly securing the orbiter in place, was completed today (Jan. 31).

The lift and mate were accomplished with the help of experts at the California Science Center who previously worked on NASA’s shuttle program. “This is the final time they’ll work together to lift and mate a space shuttle and is the last-ever planned space shuttle stack,” said the museum in a statement.

Where are NASA’s other space shuttles?

The Endeavour was part of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, which launched thirty years of missions from 1981 to 2011. Only three of the five shuttles used in the program still exist. The Challenger shuttle infamously broke apart in a 1986 launch accident, while the Columbia shuttle disintegrated upon reentry during its final flight in 2003.

In Merritt Island, Florida, the Atlantis shuttle is on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where it is presented as it was in space with its payload doors open and its robotic arm extended. Meanwhile, the Discovery shuttle is at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, where it was transferred by NASA in April 2012.

The arrival of the Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center replaced the institution’s display of the Enterprise shuttle, which was used as a test vehicle and was the first space shuttle orbiter ever built. Enterprise, which was also previously displayed at the Kennedy Space Center, has since 2012 been housed at New York City’s Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Despite the successful lift and assembly of the Endeavour, the shuttle’s exhibit will not be open to the public for another two years as construction continues at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. The 200,000-square-foot expansion aims to surround the shuttle with 100 additional spacecraft and numerous exhibitions. The project is the result of a $400 million fundraising campaign that has received contributions from the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation and Kent Kresa, the former CEO of aerospace company Northrop Grumman.

NASA’s Endeavour Is Ready for Liftoff at LA’s California Science Center