On April 12, 1981, the maiden voyage of space shuttle Columbia not only marked the day twenty years prior when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth, but also began the first of 135 STS missions to and from space with a reusable spacecraft. One of the most complex machines ever devised the space shuttle was the only spacecraft capable of delivering and returning people, large payloads and scientific experiments to and from space. So, when NASA announced that the California Science Center in Exposition Park would be awarded Space Shuttle Endeavour it not only complimented Southern California’s rich aerospace history but also the dedication and commitment of thousands to shuttle missions over the past 30 years.
The arrival of Endeavour is also a homecoming for one of the nation’s space shuttle fleet that were built and maintained in Downey, Canoga Park and Palmdale by our regions once dominant aerospace industry. Up until the early 1990s, the aerospace industry not only dominated the Southern California job market but the industry itself transformed the city as a whole. Companies such as Rockwell International, The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin Corporation and Rocketdyne employed thousands who all contributed to the shuttle program. Edwards Air Force Base served as the shuttle’s second home and alternate landing facility if bad weather was forecasted for Cape Canaveral, Fla. On those occasions sonic booms would quickly catch our attention and would be overcome by a strong sense of pride that “our” shuttle was landing.
The presence of Endeavour at the California Space Center will not only provide a learning experience for students and pride for those who designed, built and launched it, but will also be a constant reminder of those brave astronauts who perished aboard Challenger in January of 1986 and Columbia in February 2003, including local Hughes Aircraft Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis who was a member of the Challenger crew.
The last of NASA’s shuttles to be built, Endeavour was the second to the last of all space shuttle flights, STS-134. Atlantis STS-135 would be the final flight and mission of the space shuttle program. In 25 missions over 20 years, Endeavour logged more that 122 million miles in space and circled the globe at 17,500 mph, but it will be the last 12 miles that may be the most memorable for this shuttle. As Endeavour made its grand entrance to the west coast this month a top a modified 747 flying as low as 1,500 feet passing by some of California’s points of interest as well as over the very facilities that gave life to the shuttle program here locally.
Among others, the shuttle derived technologies that have been used in developing an artificial heart and limbs, three-dimensional biotechnology, a light for treating tumors in children, improving crime prevention and wildfire detection to name a few. Endeavour’s final journey will be a reminder of the last 30 years of space shuttle missions, a sign of American ingenuity, pride for thousands who dedicated decades to its success and will remind us of a shared commitment to sending humans into space and returning them safely to earth. This will be the legacy of America’s space shuttle program.
We experienced the exhilarating triumph and dealt with two heartbreaking shuttle tragedies together. Endeavour’s presence will tie us all together to this as well as this great national accomplishment. The ending of the shuttle means the beginning of a successor to once again have American’s send astronauts into orbit and beyond to do what we do best, explore. Godspeed, Endeavour and welcome home. spt