Science Center to exhibit space shuttle’s tank, rocket boosters


The California Science Center has won a new companion exhibit to the space shuttle Endeavour: the shuttle’s external tank and twin solid rocket boosters.

The tank –- the orange cylindrical structure affixed to the shuttle’s belly at launch –- and twin solid rocket boosters had been displayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

When the shuttle exhibit is assembled next year, it will be a challenge to ship the external tank from Florida. It is typically moved by barge, meaning it might have to be taken through the Panama Canal, said Science Center President Jeffrey N. Rudolph.


“It’s actually quite a bit longer than the shuttle,” Rudolph said. The fuel tank is 153.8 feet long, compared with Endeavour’s 122 feet.

Museum officials were happy about NASA’s decision to give the tank and solid rocket boosters. But shipping will add to the $200 million they already must raise to transport the shuttle and build a new wing at the state-run museum in South Los Angeles.

“We’re going for donations for everything,” Rudolph said.

In October, when asked by The Times if he had a request of the Science Center, shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly — husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Endeavour’s last commander — said he hoped that the Los Angeles exhibit would be as authentic as possible.

“Try to get as authentic solid rocket boosters and the external tank as possible,” Kelly said. “I mean, there’s certainly limitations. There are some spare parts that are out there. But if they could acquire, you know, the closest thing to real hardware to finish off that exhibit, that would just be incredible.”

The museum intends to have Endeavour displayed vertically –- as if ready for launch — in its permanent home in a new museum wing.

Rudolph thanked NASA for the gift. “Once this became clear that these were available, we said, well, we wanted them. They actually told us they might be available. A number of other places wanted them, but they chose to give them to us.”

The external tank and solid rocket boosters were removed from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November to make room for a new museum to house the retired space shuttle Atlantis. The tank and boosters had been on display at the Kennedy Space Center since the 1990s.

The external tank coming to Los Angeles was originally used for fit checks early in the shuttle program, and the solid rocket boosters include segments that have flown before, according to the Science Center.

The twin solid rocket boosters would provide the power to lift the shuttle to an altitude of about 28 miles, then would fall into the ocean, where they would be recovered for reuse, according to NASA.

The external tank would hold the fuel for the shuttle’s three main engines, powering the shuttle to a height of 70 miles above Earth’s surface, NASA says. About 8.5 minutes after launch, the tank would be ejected and mostly disintegrate in the atmosphere. The rest would fall into the ocean.

It’s expected that Endeavour will arrive in Los Angeles next fall and be paraded from Los Angeles International Airport through Inglewood to the Science Center, near USC. Until a permanent museum wing is built for it, Endeavour will be housed in a temporary building at the museum and be displayed horizontally.