Endeavour starts its new life as a museum exhibit (PHOTOS)

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After a cross-country trip strapped on top of a 747, and a cross-town trip towed through the streets of Los Angeles, the space shuttle Endeavour has begun its new life as a museum piece. The Endeavour exhibit at the California Science Center opened to the public Tuesday.

Hundreds of schoolkids attended the grand opening. They sat under one of the shuttle's wings as Gov. Jerry Brown, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Inglewood Mayor James Butts, and other dignitaries celebrated the moment.

Arturo Alvarez, an 8th grader at Audubon Middle School,  take his eyes off of the shuttle. 

“It’s kind of awesome to see actually the Endeavour right here up close because I always see it on TV but I never could get to see it up close," he said.

Alvarez joined his classmates and hundreds of kids from other schools at the opening.  They asked NASA astronauts – some who flew with Endeavour – plenty of questions.  They walked underneath and around the shuttle, and marveled over interactive exhibits and artifacts, such as Endeavour’s tires, toilet, fuel cells, and galley.

 13-year-old Carl Williams said Endeavour didn’t look like he expected:  “I thought they would like paint over it but they kept it original, because it’s like a piece of history.” 

 Mayor Villaraigosa predicted Endeavour will lure some 600 thousand visitors a year to the museum.  He recalled how excited people were when the shuttle made its way to the Southland.

“I saw grown men, jumping up in the air like they were 4th graders," said Villaraigosa. " I saw people crying as that shuttle was coming.  I was told by some teachers that as the shuttle was flying over the sky that kids walked in the school yard and when they came back in they said, ‘I want to be an engineer.'”

The museum has launched a $200 million fundraising campaign to pay for  the construction of a permanent home for the shuttle. The Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is due to open in about five years.

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