Air & Space Exhibit at the California Science Center

Los Angeles has plenty of sunny weather, and rain is pretty unusual. But recently, it was pouring rain, and we had taken a day off work. What to do? We took the opportunity to check out the local California Science Center! We had never been before, and it had a lot of great exhibits. I was primarily interested in the Air & Space exhibit, and the museum is also the permanent home of the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

replica of the viking lander on mars
replica of the viking lander on mars

The space exhibit is broken out into a few sections: air and aircraft; humans in space; the solar system and planets; and telescopes and stars. The “humans in space” part of the exhibit has some really impressive things on display, including an actual Apollo command module, a Gemini capsule, and a Mercury-Redstone capsule.

apollo command module on display
apollo command module

For those who are less familiar with the details, the US space program back in the 1950s and 60s involved the creation of NASA and several successively ambitious projects designed to accomplish specific goals or milestones:

gemini capsule on display
gemini capsule

Project Mercury. Beginning immediately after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into orbit (Sputnik in 1957), Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program in the US and ran from 1958 to 1963. The goal was to put a man into orbit and, of course, return him safely. The program involved 20 spacecraft launches with no crew (some with an animal), and eventually it successfully launched humans into orbit.

Project Gemini. The purpose of Gemini (1961 to 1966) was to develop space travel techniques to support the ability to eventually land astronauts on the moon (which was ultimately done with Apollo). These techniques included things like extra-vehicular activity, rendezvous of spacecraft, and docking. The name Gemini comes from the fact that the spacecraft carried a two-person crew, named after the Gemini twins in Greek mythology.

Project Apollo. Running from 1968 to 1972, the goal of Apollo was to land the first astronauts on the moon. It involved a three person spacecraft and was originally conceived during the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s, but later dedicated to JFK’s goal of landing a man on the moon, and of course eventually achieved its goal with Apollo 11 in 1969.

space shuttle endeavor on display
space shuttle endeavor on display, front view

The highlight of the museum (for me, at least) was the Endeavor exhibit. The US only produced a total of six space shuttles, which were in operation from the first flight in 1981 through the last flight in 2011: Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor. The first shuttle, Enterprise, was only used for testing purposes. Two of the six shuttles, Challenger and Columbia, were lost in two disasters when they disintegrated during their missions, in 1986 and 2003, respectively. That means only four of the six shuttles are still in existence, and the California Science Center houses one of them. The Endeavor was gifted to the museum and, through seemingly herculean efforts, transported to southern California back in 2012.

It was pretty amazing to learn about the difficult journey to physically move the shuttle through the streets of Los Angeles, and to see one of the few remaining shuttles up close.

space shuttle endeavor on display, rear view
space shuttle endeavor on display, rear view

The space shuttle is currently on display in this building, but the museum is in the process of building another even larger building where the shuttle will sit vertically, attached to the booster tanks as if it were ready for launch. This will be the only place in the world where the shuttle will be displayed in this manner. I’m not sure when the exhibit will be completed, but it should be pretty impressive.

I didn’t grow up during the space race in the 1950s and 60s, but rather during the 1980s and 90s when the space shuttle program seemed like the future. Now, of course, it’s been retired and NASA is developing the Space Launch System, and private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others are building massive rockets to put humans into space (which SpaceX has already successfully done). But this exhibit really hit home for me; I was in awe at the experience of seeing one of the only space shuttles in existence. If you live in LA or are planning to visit, I’d definitely recommend a trip to the California Science Center.

New year updates

New year’s day: seems like a good time for some updates.

man with facial hair and glasses wearing black jacket standing and smiling at camera with green trees in background
during a brief trip to ojai

To say I’ve been busy lately would be a dramatic understatement. Even aside from the pandemic and the general chaos it has created, 2021 has been a pretty crazy year for me. At this time 1 year ago, we were living in the Seattle area and our daughter hadn’t been born yet. Fast forward to today, and she is 11 months old, and we are living in Los Angeles (with another big cross country move to come in another few months).

During 2021 I can’t say I accomplished much in rocketry, but I did take several classes at local community colleges: a chemistry prep course; the full chemistry course with lab; a geology class about dinosaurs; and linear (matrix) algebra. In 2019, I took the three-part calculus series, and linear algebra was the first post-calculus math class I’ve ever taken. I’d like to eventually get an engineering degree and these are just math and science pre-requisites, but regardless of whether I ultimately get the degree, I just enjoy learning – and these are some tough classes that really force me to do some hard work and expand my mind.

Since arriving in Los Angeles about six months ago, we’ve also made an effort to get out and explore the local area – with the important caveats that this is taking place during a global pandemic and we have a baby. We’ve made it to San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ojai, and Big Bear Lake within a few hours’ drive of LA; several beaches, many hikes, and a few botanical gardens; and much more. Most recently we just visited the California Science Center, which has an awesome space exhibit and actually houses one of the (now retired) space shuttles. I’ll post more about this exhibit shortly!

West coast road trip day 5: Los Angeles

Finally made it to Los Angeles!

green and red cactus, succulents, and various desert plants
desert plants

The climate and environment changed slowly but steadily for the entire drive down the coast. You can see the dramatic differences more easily when comparing pictures from when we left to when we arrived. The Pacific Northwest is – as you’d expect – much more green, wet, and cloudy. Southern California is – also as you’d expect – dry, dusty, sunny, and hot. We haven’t seen any evidence that it actually rains here so far, although theoretically it must rain at some point. Right?

mexican food restaurant and painted mural on building with city street in foreground
tacos everywhere

It’s true that tacos are on every corner in LA. So is interesting artwork.

front yard of house with desert plants and dry dirt
local plants

Cactus and succulents are also on every corner, and literally line the streets. The landscaping varies from one house to another, but this type of yard is not unusual at all here.

I’m posting these pictures late, but we made the 1,100+ mile trip down highway 101 in about five days. It was incredibly scenic, and we barely scratched the surface – we could have easily extended the trip to 10 or 15 days and done it at a much slower pace, and we still wouldn’t have seen everything. It’s hard to top driving along a scenic coastline next to the Pacific Ocean, from beach towns to dense forests of ancient redwoods.

Going from Seattle to Los Angeles is a bit of a culture shock, separate and apart from the major change in climate. The city is a lot bigger and seems more chaotic (although to be fair, we just arrived, so everything is unfamiliar). And to take an example at random – drivers here are much more aggressive. Whereas in Seattle they are safe and courteous almost to a fault, in LA they will speed, tailgate, and frequently blow through red lights. Of course, we’re originally from Chicago, so these things are not quite as big a culture shock as they otherwise might be.

We’re only in LA for 12 months, and we plan to make the most of it. Expect more posts and pictures as we explore the city and surrounding area in southern California!

West coast road trip day 4: the “avenue of the giants”

On the fourth day of our road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles, we drove through even more redwoods in northern California. In Humboldt Redwoods State Park there is a long stretch of road you can take, separate from highway 101 but more or less parallel to it, that winds through the forest. It’s called the “Avenue of the Giants,” appropriately, and it’s spectacular.

view upwards towards the sky in a forest of tall trees on all sides
pretty tall trees

It’s definitely slower than 101 because of narrow turns and occasional stops (plus everyone is driving for the scenic view, and going very slowly as a result), but it’s worth the extra time. You just have to envision yourself as being in a parade, going no more than 20 mph, and you’ll be just fine.

sign for humboldt redwoods state park
welcome

There are other areas you can branch off and visit in this large state park, too, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to do anything other than drive through from one end to the other. Something about this forest feels majestic, though, like you’re in a sacred place.

forest of tall redwoods
majestic redwoods

After this, we drove a few hours further through northern and then central California, passed through Santa Rosa, and eventually crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, for which we later received a bill for an unpaid toll in the mail. Well-played, bridge operator.

This was our last overnight stop before the final leg of the trip: SF to LA.

West coast road trip day 3: redwoods

On the third day, we finished driving down the southern Oregon coast, entered northern California and spent some time at the beach in Crescent City, and – after waiting on some major road construction on highway 101 – finally made it to the legendary redwoods. We stopped at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and went on a short hike, although there was much more to see!

coastline with ocean and beach next to mountains
southern oregon

The coast in Oregon is really beautiful, although the further south you go, the more you start to get California vibes. Maybe it was just getting sunnier?

trail leading through forest with tall trees and fog in distance
an enchanted forest

The stops along the way also don’t disappoint. This was one of several that we made, at the “natural bridges” viewpoint. You can see why it’s named that in the next picture.

rock formation in water, surrounded by trees and thick fog
natural bridges viewpoint

This is a rock formation out in the ocean forming a “natural bridge” across the water. Just another pit stop along the way!

sandy beach with ocean on a sunny day
crescent city beach

Eventually we crossed into California (where we were even stopped by state customs officials and asked about any produce or plants we may be bringing across state lines). The first sizeable town is Crescent City, and we stopped at a restaurant called SeaQuake for a late lunch and then checked out the ocean. Our first California beach!

two people standing next to extremely large trees, on a wooden boardwalk in the forest
these are some large trees

Later, we made it further south to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, one of several areas where you can see the redwood forests. We went for a short hike, although it was getting later in the day by this point (a familiar theme on this trip). Our five month old baby, Ava, was a real trooper. She definitely enjoys going on hikes, but of course she gets all of the benefits (fresh air, amazing sights) while expending no energy and being effortlessly carried around.