This past Saturday, we ventured into downtown LA for the first time to visit the California ScienCenter. In addition to CSC’s permanent exhibits, we were especially interested in the special exhibition “The Science Behind Pixar”, as well as the new pavilion dedicated to the decommissioned Space Shuttle Endeavour, OV-105.
The Science Behind Pixar is a fascinating 12,000 sq. ft. interactive exhibition that showcases the science, technology, engineering, and math concepts used by the artists and computer scientists who help bring Pixar’s award-winning films to the big screen. With more than 40 interactive exhibit elements, the exhibition’s eight sections each focus on a step in the Pixar production pipeline, many described in firsthand accounts from members of the studio’s production team. You know that seemingly never-ending list of people in the end credits of a Pixar film? Now we understand what all those lighters, shaders, riggers, simulation engineers and render technicians actually do, and why it takes so many of them to bring Pixar’s characters to life. (The Science Behind Pixar Exhibition runs through April 9, 2017.)
The Endeavour experience includes an introductory exhibit called “Endeavour Together: Parts & People”, with artifacts, images, video and other information on how the Space Shuttles came to be. The exhibit also highlights the shuttle program’s strong connection to California, where all the orbiters were built; Endeavour was built by Rockwell in Palmdale, just a few minutes north of where we’re staying. The artifacts in the exhibit include Endeavour’s space toilet and galley, the nose cone from the external fuel tank, a full set of wheels and tires from the orbiter, and the Rocketdyne Operations Support Center from Canoga Park, CA, which monitored the powered phase of every shuttle launch. One of my favorite parts was a high-definition video screen showing all 135 Shuttle launches simultaneously; you can see it in our video above.
Then, you walk into the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, and you’re face to face with Endeavour–the most complex machine ever built. We walked around it, under it and behind it; it’s almost (but not quite) close enough to touch. Exhibits in the pavilion discuss the shuttle’s ascent into orbit, high-speed runway landing, thermal protection system, orbital maneuvering system, and main engines. Panels on the walls describe the crew and missions of each of the 135 Space Shuttle flights, including Endeavour’s 25 launches. There’s also a wonderful short film, Mission 26: The Big Endeavour, that chronicles the final flight of the orbiter from Edwards AFB to LAX and then its 62-hour voyage through the streets of Los Angeles to the California ScienCenter:
Endeavour arrived at the CSC in October 2012, but just last fall, NASA donated to the CSC the last surviving flight-worthy external fuel tank from the Shuttle stack. The tank, ET-94, is larger and longer than Endeavour, and it too had to be carried by road from Marina del Rey to the CSC. Right now, ET-94 sits outside the building housing Endeavour, but when the permanent Samuel Oschin Pavilion is eventually built, plans call for Endeavour to be mated to the external tank and two solid rocket boosters (still to be acquired), with the entire system displayed vertically as if it was ready to launch. That will be a sight to see!