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PHOTOS: Shuttle Endeavour - One year ago, LA was one big party

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

A group of children look up at Endeavour during the grand opening of the exhibition at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif., October 30, 2012. Anibal Ortiz / KPCC

"It was just a phenomenal experience. To see everybody celebrating positive, patriotic, and all about science."

It was one of the most joyous long weekends in LA history. Shuttle Endeavour crawled from LAX to the California Science Center. To mark the 1-year anniversary, and look at the center's plans for Endeavour, I talked with Jeff Rudolph, president of the science center, who remembered that weekend well. "It was just a phenomenal experience. To see everybody celebrating positive, patriotic, and all about science."

More than a million people lined up along the parade route, and everybody was on their best behavior, from the police to the populace. There were no arrests among the spectators. "No arrests, not a single negative incident." Rudolph says. "You know, we took Endeavour through the streets, and if people had wanted to harm it, it really was impossible to fully protect it, but nobody wanted to create any harm, nobody wanted to do anything but celebrate."

The shuttle went on display in a temporary facility within a couple weeks, and Rudolph says 2.7 million people have viewed so far, more than a million more than usually visit the center in a year, an increase in numbers LACMA, the LA Phil, and even the Dodgers would kill for. It's as if Maestro Dudamel threw a no- hitter with the Levitated Mass. Every day.

Next, by 2018, the shuttle will be moved to a new location at the center, and set upright, attached to solid rocket boosters. This is a bigger engineering feat, Rudolph says, than bringing the shuttle from the airport. The new building will have to be more than 185-feet high, and inside, Endeavour will sit on a huge pad to isolate it from earthquakes. Just finding the nuts and bolts to attach the shuttle to the boosters took a long time. (See our slideshow.)

It's not just a tourist attraction; it's a true inspiration. Rudolph gave us just one example of many. A teacher noticed a 5th grader named Richard crying when the shuttle flew over. "I want to be an astronaut!" he said. Long story short, he and his friends won a scholarship to Space Camp, and their grades skyrocketed, not just in science. "Kids are smart," Rudolph says, "kids start with this great interest in science, and if we can maintain and build on that, they'll learn."

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