View of the Udvar-Hazy Center – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter
Everyone has heard of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC (at least if you read this site, you likely have). The museum’s main location, prominently located on the National Mall, has long been a favorite stop for tourists exploring the nation’s capitol. Less well-known, however, is the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center located 25 miles to the west, adjacent to Dulles International Airport (IAD). I recently took the opportunity to spend a few hours before a flight exploring this amazing facility, and I was not disappointed.
The museum, which opened in 2003, consists of two massive hangars housing over 3,000 aircraft, spacecraft, and other historical items. All told, there is nearly 300,000 square-feet of floor space in the museum. The collection includes the space shuttle Discovery, an SR-71, an Air France Concorde, and the B-29 bomber Enola Gay among many other fascinating pieces.
Col. Chris Hadfield describes life onboard the International Space Station to a packed house at the Future of Flight – Photo: Kris Hull
Colonel Chris Hadfield (RCAF ret.) is probably one of the most easily recognizable astronauts today. His popularity was spurred to rock star-like status in 2012 while he was training for his final spaceflight, a five-month stay on the International Space Station. Recently, Col. Hadfield made a stop in Everett, WA, to promote his newest book, You are Here ’“ Around the World in 92 Minutes, and AirlineReporter had a few minutes to sit down and talk with this amazing man about his missions, his infamous tweets, and his books.
Chris Hadfield, Canada’s most famous astronaut! Photo: NASA
In the last fifteen to twenty years, no astronaut has risen to the popularity that Chris Hadfield has. As one of the few Canadian astronauts, he has had the honor of flying into space three times: twice on the Space Shuttle, and once on a Soyuz. On his last mission, he assumed command of the International Space Station, only the second non-American or Russian to hold that honor. He was the only Canadian to visit the Russian space station Mir and was the first Canadian to walk in space.
When asked about his two space walks, and what it was like to exit that hatch for the first time, he said “It’s very visually powerful. It is overwhelmingly visually powerful outside. You have the Earth going by underneath you at five miles a second, and all of the colors that exist, the textures, are just amazing. When you look the other way, it is the complete blackness of the universe going on forever. And you are in the middle of all of this, hanging onto a silver and white man-made structure, holding on with one hand. The onslaught coming in through your eyes is amazing. Your eyes is the only sense that tells you were you are. It is an overwhelming experience. When I go back and watch the video of the first time I exited the hatch, I can see that I just stopped for several seconds and just took it all in. We over use the words awesome and incredible, but walking in space is both of these things.”
The Shuttle Endeavour rides to Los Angeles about a specially modified NASA 747 – Photo: Kevin Epstein – Aviation Photographic
When the final shuttle mission was flown by Atlantis, on July 8th 2011, the end of the NASA space shuttle program loomed. What would become of the magnificent aircraft (well spacecraft)?
Unfortunately the Museum of Flight in Seattle (where I am based) was unable to secure a shuttle, they did however get the Shuttle Trainer. The trainer was delivered with some spectacle, as the Super Guppy brought in the major pieces over 3 flights. With the Smithsonian’s Udvar Hazy Center getting a shuttle (Discovery), the Kennedy Space Center getting another (Atlantis), the final one, Endeavour, went to the California Science Center.
BONUS: Super Guppy Delivers Space Shuttle Trainer to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA
With the expected crowds wanted to see the shuttle, it was ferried across the country to LAX on what felt like the world’s largest flightseeing aircraft — a specially modified 747 — called the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. From this point the final mission for the Endeavour was ahead of it, but also a world’s first. A 12 mile journey across Los Angeles streets to its new (and temporary) home at the California Science Center.
The Shuttle Endeavour: Photo – Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
The science center is located at Exposition Park, which is home to the University of Southern California, a handful of other museums and also the LA Coliseum, where the 1984 olympics were held. This makes it an ideal location to handle the crowds, as there is plenty of space (and there sure was a lot of crowds the day I visited). The museum has the usual science center exhibits but the drawcard (at least for many folks) is the Endeavour, which currently lives in a temporary exhibit.
BONUS: Video of NASA’s Boeing 747-123 (N905NA) Last Take Off as a Shuttle Carrier
The spacecraft is in pristine condition though as it still shows the battle scars (pointed out by my guide Shell Amega) from its last mission into space. I would not have even realized these deep scars had they not been pointed out to me and it was these scars that had Cmdr Mark Kelly, who commanded STS-134, to make a go/no go decision. His choice was to either conduct a dangerous spacewalk to fix the damage or reenter the atmosphere with the damage as is. Cmdr Kelly made the decision to reenter as is, and they all made it back safely, finishing their final mission.
But the displays don’t just end at the shuttle itself. There are also a number of exhibits dedicated to the shuttle program including a genuine ’œSpace Potty’ where crew used the facilities in spaceflight (including the curtain installed just for when females first joined the shuttle program). There is the Rocketdyne Operations Support Center taken piece by piece exactly from the day of the last shuttle mission and put back together at the Science Center, including down to the position of mugs, pencils etc.
Misson 26 is a fantastic exhibition showing the people and places the shuttle went through on its journey across Los Angeles: Photo – Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
The one exhibit that really attracted me though was not the galley or the laboratory where the experiments were conducted in the cargo bay. It was ’œMission 26,’ which is a display of photographs used to chronicle the final mission for Endeavor and its journey through the streets of Los Angeles. This was a precision operation with laser measuring used to ensure that the shuttle did not damage things and any tree removed was later replanted (and they have been, with more to come).
Mission 26 though is full of the most stunning of photographs and video showing this journey through the streets. Not just of the shuttle itself but of the people, those who ventured out to welcome Endeavour to its new home.
BONUS: Video of Space Shuttle Discovery Launch Viewed From Airliner
Currently the California Science Center is building a true Air and Space wing to house the shuttle. NASA was a little bit puzzled and really worried that the plans were a bit out of left field as the shuttle will return to an upright position. Just as though it was sitting on the famous launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will sit surrounded not only by other spacecraft, satellites and displays but other aircraft as well. Once completed in 2017, it should make this a fantastic addition to aviation and space in Southern California.
The New Planned Air & Space Gallery at the California Science Center: Photo – Mal Muir | AirlineReporter.com
A visit to the California Science Center and the Shuttle Endeavour are free, but booking them online before you arrive (and thus a $2 fee) is the best avenue. Access to the shuttle is limited and the day I was there (in the middle of spring break mind you) tickets sold out early! It is still worth it though, the shuttle was a magnificent icon of just what we can achieve when we set our mind to it & it will hopefully continue to inspire people in our future.
||This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.
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