Forget the Lakers or Clippers. One of the hottest tickets to get in Los Angeles in recent months has been for the space shuttle Endeavour, housed at the California Science Center at USC.
But being the planner that I am, I scored tickets to the exhibit just nine days after it opened.
Kenley and I, along with many other Los Angelenos, have been fascinated by the Endeavour ever since it flew over the city while perched atop a 747 in September.
I was working a copy-editing shift at The Hollywood Reporter on Wilshire that Friday, but there wasn’t much editing going on as most of us tuned into online updates about the location of the shuttle. We finally abandoned all pretenses of work and took to the office terrace to try to spot the Endeavour. Below us, people were gathering along the sidewalks looking toward the sky. Above us, others gathered on rooftops, pointing and shouting as the shuttle came into view. It flew along the Hollywood Hills, headed downtown and circled back toward LAX on its final flight.
Kenley spotted it near our apartment on the west side, closer to LAX, where the shuttle landed to stay for a few days before beginning the journey to its destination at the Science Center.
In this case, iPhone cameras clearly didn’t do the shuttle justice. But strategically positioned Los Angeles Times photographers using much bigger lenses captured great shots of the shuttle over the Hollywood sign, Griffith Park, the Santa Monica Pier and other city landmarks.
People in L.A. tend to play it cool and rarely get excited about celebrity sightings. And because the city is so sprawling and so diverse, there are few legitimate communal experiences. But on that really hot Friday afternoon, everyone in the city — even the celebrities — seemed to be starstruck.
The LA Times reported that Tom Hanks, who played Cmdr. Jim Lovell in the movie “Apollo 13,” tweeted:
“Just flew over my head!!! Don’t see this everyday. Never will again. The Spaceman in me just went berserk.”
About a month later, the Endeavour began a very slow, two-day trek along a 12-mile path from LAX to the Science Center. Kenley and I regret not joining the millions of people lining its path as it made the trek. I think we were among the few who heeded the warnings by officials to steer clear. But luckily, the LA Times put together a time lapse video that makes you feel as if you were there.
Kenley and I got our closeup of the shuttle about a week after it went on display at the California Science Center on the campus of the other USC. I had ordered tickets online just before the exhibit opened. Kenley’s middle brother, Logan, was in town for the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellowship, and we headed to see the Endeavour after our tour of Paramount Studios.
We walked right through the maze of ropes put in place for anticipated large weekend crowds. There’s a small exhibit before you get to the space shuttle that illustrates the shuttle’s history — and the role that California played in the construction of the Endeavour, which was built to replace the Challenger. Much of the shuttle was built by Rockwell International Corp. in Palmdale, Calif.
The first thing you see? The space toilet, part of a display about how astronauts relieve themselves in space. Yikes.
There’s also a shuttle simulator, which was a little lame, and a short video. The exhibit obviously needs to be better organized, but the main attraction, of course, is the shuttle itself. You have to wind through the space center a bit more before you get to a large hangar-like structure, where the shuttle is on display — and where it will remain until the Science Center raises enough funds for a new air and space center. The plan is for the shuttle to be displayed upright, as if it’s about to launch.
You might expect Endeavour to be sleek and shiny, like something made by Apple. But the space shuttle is weathered, and its black tip kinda makes it look like it has a big, wet dog nose. It already feels sort of dated, maybe because it’s basically housed in a museum.
Still, the sheer size of the Endeavour is impressive, and it’s just mind-blowing when you think about where it’s been.
Kenley says it reminded him of being on the hangar deck in “Battlestar Galactica” — surrounded by rusted, obsolete, beaten-up equipment that’s clearly seen better days. And yet it’s bursting with so much character and history that it almost feels alive, and infinitely more inspiring than a brand-new vessel hot off the Cylon assembly line.
Nerd alert, huh?
I’m glad we visited on a day when it wasn’t too crowded because we were able to get photos of the Endeavour from every angle:
After geeking out over the space shuttle, we attempted to re-establish our cool cred at a hot restaurant in town — Ink, by “Top Chef” winner Michael Voltaggio.
Voltaggio was the chef at Jose Andres’ The Bazaar (our favorite restaurant in L.A.), before he defeated his brother in the Season 6 finale of “Top Chef.”
Ink opened in the fall of 2011 and was named the best new restaurant of 2012 by GQ.
Our favorite things we ordered:
–Poutine with chickpea fries, yogurt curds and lamb neck gravy
–Ham and manchego biscuits with almond butter (pictured below)
–Brussels sprouts with pig ears and lardo (pictured below and resembling a “Clash of the Titans” monster, as one of Kenley’s Facebook friends commented)
The food was good, but not quite as experimental as The Bazaar and not quite as memorable as Animal, where we ate earlier this year.