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!

What to see at the Museum of Flight in Seattle

I recently had a chance to visit the Museum of Flight in Seattle for the first time – long overdue, in fact, since we moved out to the area more than 18 months ago. It was an impressive place with some great exhibits. In particular, we spent most of the time in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, although there was much more to see.

This also comes on the heels of my recent trip to the Henry Crown Space Center at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Soyuz (Russian) descent module
Soyuz (Russian) descent module

One highlight was an actual module from a Soyuz spacecraft. Soyuz was the human spaceflight program in the Soviet Union (and continues today in Russia), and the Soyuz rocket and spacecraft were integral parts of this program. Interestingly, the Soyuz rocket is the most reliable launch vehicle, as well as the most frequently used launch vehicle, in the world. The first Soyuz manned capsule was used in 1967, and Soyuz flights have taken place more than 1,700 times since then, in both manned and unmanned missions.

Life sized model of the Hubble telescope
The Hubble telescope

The exhibit also had some life-size models of things like the Hubble telescope and even a life-size space shuttle that you can climb aboard. Pictures (such as the Hubble, above) obviously don’t do the size of these things justice, although the relatively small floating astronaut next to the telescope helps provide a sense of scale.

The Hubble telescope is of course extremely well known. It was launched into low earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation today – 30 years later! – and it’s produced countless amazing images of the cosmos.

One thing that I didn’t know was that the Hubble is expected to last until 2030, or perhaps as late as 2040, and that its successor is the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in 2021 – from an Ariane 5 rocket. What a time to be alive!

Museum display titled Rocket Science 101
Rocket Science 101

The space gallery also had a variety of other exhibits, including some interesting info about how rockets work, differences between solid and liquid fuel rockets, and displays related to the world’s largest rockets and orbits. I’m no expert on any of this, and I really enjoyed this “Rocket Science 101.”

I only included a handful of pictures here, but for more, you can check out my Instagram.

The Museum of Flight really has a lot of other exhibits to see as well; in fact, it’s primarily dedicated to aviation and airplanes (e.g. from the early days of flight and the World War I and II era), with only a smaller space dedicated to spacecraft and rocketry. But it’s absolutely worth a visit, whether you live in Seattle or next time you’re visiting.

What to see at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago

When I was visiting family in Chicago for the holidays, I got a chance to check out the Museum of Science and Industry (“MSI”) and in particular, the Henry Crown Space Center. I was born and raised in Chicago and I’ve been to MSI many times when I was younger, but it’s been a few years now. They’ve remodeled and changed exhibits countless times, and I can’t remember having seen the space center before.

Aurora 7 capsule on display from Project Mercury
Aurora 7 capsule (Project Mercury)

Needless to say, it was awesome! There are areas dedicated to each of the major US human spaceflight programs, explaining their purpose. These programs and their stated goals include:

  • Project Mercury (to orbit a manned spacecraft around earth, to investigate humans’ ability to function in space, and to recover both person and spacecraft successfully),
  • Project Gemini (to rendezvous and dock two spacecraft), and
  • Project Apollo (to land men on the moon and return them safely to earth).
Apollo 8 module on display
Apollo 8 module

As pictured here, the exhibit included an actual manned capsule from Mercury and an actual module from Apollo. These were on loan to MSI from the National Air and Space Museum. There’s also a rock on display from the lunar surface. It’s really impressive to see these things in person; mind-blowing when you stop to think about it.

If you want to see more photos, check out my instagram, but I wanted to at least share some highlights from the exhibit on the blog as well. Chicago is renowned for its world-class museums, and MSI doesn’t disappoint.

Apollo lunar landing display
Apollo lunar landing

The space center also had some areas dedicated to modern and future space missions, including info about SpaceX (see picture below), Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and other private companies, as well as current NASA projects and plans.

Display model of SpaceX Falcon 9
From the past to the future of spaceflight

I’m enjoying launching model rockets and getting into high power rocketry, but it’s pretty inspiring to see a huge exhibit like this. It gives me motivation to set more rocket-related goals (and crush them) in 2020!