The space shuttle Endeavour arrived at the California Science Center nearly one year ago, and the Exposition Park museum is throwing its crown jewel quite the anniversary party.
Saturday marks the second day of "Endeavour Fest," a three-day event featuring astronaut presentations, film screenings and other displays related to science and engineering. The museum will also have on display the SpaceX Dragon -- the first commercial spacecraft to make a successful delivery to the International Space Station -- and the capsule and pressurized suit Felix Baumgartner used when making his recent record-breaking leap from the stratosphere.
The festivities come just days before the one-year anniversary of the space shuttle's arrival at the California Science Center and marks a year that museum officials said surpassed their expectations.
Almost 2.7 million people will probably see the shuttle in its inaugural year — a record-setting figure that surpasses even the estimate they readjusted after the first rush. Prior to the spacecraft's arrival, the museum averaged roughly 1.6 million visitors per year.
"One thing that everyone in our field knows is that you get a boost when something new opens, and then attendance will begin to decline," California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph said. "What's happened is that the interest and the level of interest stayed higher and longer than what we anticipated."
Endeavour's journey to the California Science Center began two decades ago, when aerospace curator Ken Phillips first proposed the idea of acquiring a shuttle. After the space shuttle program ended in 2011, a fierce national competition ensued as institutions lobbied NASA for one of the four retired orbiters. The California Science Center was the only institution west of the Mississippi to receive one.
Although the shuttle arrived in Exposition Park a year ago, the work hasn't stopped for those who brought it there.
Two major tasks remain at hand for the Science Center staff: Building the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center that will permanently house Endeavour, and then moving the shuttle inside. The latter is particularly complicated, as the 122-foot-long shuttle must be lifted to a vertical position as though ready for launch, complete with an external tank and twin solid rocket boosters.
Plans for the lift and move are still being finalized. Rudolph says the shuttle would be rolled into the air and space center about a year before its scheduled opening in 2018. The move, he said, would be a "first of a kind" process that in many ways would be "considerably more complex" than the 13-mile trek Endeavour made from Los Angeles International Airport to the Science Center last year.
"When we put it in that launch position, it's going to be incredible," Rudolph said.