Rocket Tourism

Space Shuttle Endeavour: History, Interesting Facts & How to Visit

In the United States, we’re lucky to have a lot of opportunities to interact with our national heritage in space. To help inspire future generations to support NASA and explore space, many amazing relics and artifacts from the different eras of NASA exploration are visible to the public at museums across the country. This includes Saturn V rockets, Apollo Command Modules and Space Shuttles. One such shuttle you can see in person is the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which document a unique chapter in American spaceflight.

The five remaining Space Shuttle are on permanent display from coast to coast. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know to visit the Space Shuttle Endeavour, the ‘baby’ of the Space Shuttle family, at her permanent home in Los Angeles.

Space Shuttle Endeavour - edward stojakovic via Flickr

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, California Science Center (where Endeavour is on display) is temporarily closed. You can check for updates here, and we’ll keep this page updated with information about re-opening once it occurs.

In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Ohlone, Miwok, and Muwekma peoples and the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, among many others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in January 2019 and was updated in November 2020.

The History of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program

Space Shuttle Endeavour - Steve Jurvetson via Flickr
Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

The Space Shuttle program was initially conceived in the late 1960s. As the Apollo program put men on the moon at exorbitant cost, NASA wanted to create a reusable, lower cost way to send people and cargo to space on a regular basis. The first space shuttle built was the Enterprise, but it never flew to space. Instead, Columbia was the first to fly to space in 1981 from Kennedy Space Center on the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic spaceflight.

Related: A Definitive History of Space Tourism & Human Spaceflight

Eventually, there were six working shuttles in all: Columbia, ChallengerDiscoveryAtlantisEndeavour, and Enterprise; there’s also the Space Shuttle Independence which never flew. Over the course of 30 years, the shuttles completed 135 missions, helping NASA deliver payloads to space, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and build Skylab and the International Space Station.

Unfortunately, following the Columbia and Challenger accidents in 1986 and 2003, the shuttle program became increasingly cost ineffective and was eventually retired. On July 8, 2011, Atlantis made the last shuttle launch and the Space Shuttle program ended. 

The History of the Space Shuttle Endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour - Robert Sullivan via Flickr
Photo credit: Robert Sullivan via Flickr

The Space Shuttle Endeavour was the final shuttle built as part of the shuttle program. Endeavour was Authorized by Congress in August 1987 as a replacement for the Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger, which had been destroyed during an accident in 1986.

Endeavour (OV-105) first arrived at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility on May 7, 1991, atop NASA’s new Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (NASA 911). She made her first flight in May 1992, to deliver a satellite to space. Over the course of her career, she flew 25 missions in all, ending in May 2011.  

Here are some interesting facts about the Space Shuttle Endeavour:

  • The shuttle Endeavour was built after the Challenger accident to replace the lost shuttle and continue the frequency of launches.
  • Endeavour was named by students after NASA held a competition among primary and secondary students across the U.S. 
  • Over the course of 25 missions, Endeavour spent 296 days, 3 hours, 34 minutes, 2 seconds in space.
  • On one mission, the Endeavour crew helped make repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope
  • The Endeavour was the first shuttle to help assemble the International Space Station.
  • To reach her final home, Endeavour made a 12-mile journey through the streets of Los Angeles.

So all that said, here’s how you can visit the Endeavour! 

Where is the Space Shuttle Endeavour?

Space Shuttle Endeavour - Jun Seita via Flickr
Photo credit: Jun Seita via Flickr

As mentioned, Endeavor was decommissioned in 2011 as the space shuttle program ended. Shortly after its retirement, NASA began looking for a permanent home for Endeavour. In 2012, Endeavour was moved to her current home.

Today, the Space Shuttle Endeavour is on permanent exhibition at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California

The California Science Center is located in the heart of Los Angeles’ urban sprawl and easily reached from many parts of the city. It is a 25-minute drive from Los Angeles International Airport and only 15 minutes from downtown. 

The Endeavour is housed in a special building designed to be its permanent home, the Samuel Oschin Pavilion. As the California Science Center is a massive campus of exhibits focusing on a variety of science topics, the Endeavour is just one of the fascinating experiences you can have at this Los Angeles science museum. 

How to Visit Space Shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center

Space Shuttle Endeavour - Mr. Littlehand via Flickr
Photo credit: Mr. Littlehand via Flickr

The Endeavour is one of the most popular exhibits at the California Science Center, so there are lots of signs to guide you to see it. Here are some other details and tips you’ll need to know to make the most of your visit.

Remember: California Science Center is not currently open due to the ongoing pandemic! Check here for updates.

Tickets & Admission to the California Science Center

Admission to see the Endeavour is included in your ticket to the California Science Center. Even better, admission to permanent exhibits at the California Science Center is free. Since you already have access to the whole of the California Science Center to see Endeavour, you might as well make a half-day or full-day trip of it!

It’s common to see lots of kids and families while you’re visiting the California Science Center. In particular, there are field trips to the California Science Center pretty much every day! 

If you’re visiting the Endeavour on a weekend or holiday, you’ll need to arrange a reservation time in advance. There are three ways to do this: online, by phone, or in person at the box office. By phone or online, you’ll pay a $3 fee per ticket; it’s free to get tickets at the box office, but they are available on a first-come, first-serve basis each day.

Space Shuttle Endeavour in the Oschin Pavillion

Space Shuttle Endeavour - Kevin Gill via Flickr
Photo credit: Kevin Gill via Flickr

When you enter the California Science Center, there are signs pointing to the Endeavour in the Samuel Oschin Pavilion that guide you to see the shuttle. The signs will first take you through a small exhibit on the 2nd floor.

Here you can learn about the history of the shuttle program, Endeavour‘s own history, and her installation at the California Science Center. (There are some amazing pics of Endeavour in downtown Los Angeles!) You’ll also get to see and touch some of the equipment that made up Endeavour, like the massive wheels shuttles used to land on runways.

Once you’ve learned about Endeavour in this exhibit, signs will point you downstairs to the building where the shuttle is housed. When you enter the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, it’s hard to miss Endeavour, which is clearly the focal point of the exhibit. You can walk all the way around and underneath Endeavour, admiring her from every angle.

Work your way around the exterior wall of the hall to learn about each shuttle mission during NASA’s Space Shuttle program. There’s also a Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) on display, which lets you learn more about the engines that provided shuttles like Endeavour with propulsion.

In a far corner, there’s an interesting display on a proposed new building for Endeavour. It’s interesting to imagine how much more grand the new building might someday look. NASA continues to work on this project, and the needed rocket boosters rolled into Los Angeles in September 2020. Eventually, the exhibit will look completely different!

Lastly, there’s an entirely NASA and Endeavour themed gift shop in the pavilion so don’t miss out on any memorabilia you might want to take home.

Bonus: Don’t Miss the External Tank & Related Exhibits

After you visit Endeavour, check out these other space-related things to see at the California Science Center.

Just outside the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, you can follow a small path to stand beside a massive external tank. This tank housed the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks to propel each shuttle and the boosters to space. It’s a surprisingly peaceful spot as most visitors don’t spend long out here.

There’s also an exhibit on the 2nd floor of the California Science Center about other space technology and NASA missions. Here you can see models of space telescopes like the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Spitzer Space Telescope, and Hubble Space Telescope; a model Viking Lander; and several capsules including an Apollo-Soyuz command module, the Gemini 11 capsule, and the Mercury-Redstone 2 capsule. 

After seeing these exhibits, you can obviously continue to explore the rest of the California Science Center. You’ll find permanent exhibits about ecosystems, physics, and currently, there’s an exhibition on the artifacts of King Tut (there’s an extra charge for this exhibit). 

Have other questions about seeing the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center? Let us know in the comments!

Featured photo credit: edward stojakovic via Flickr

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Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She grew up in Alaska, has lived across the U.S., and traveled around the world to enjoy the night sky from many different perspectives. Join her on this journey to explore space right here on earth.