Friday, July 05, 2013

Day in L.A. Part 1: Nude statues and space shuttles...

Before I realized that my passport was missing and I would not be returning to Iwakuni July 1 as planned, our family took a trip to Los Angeles June 29, with the top destination being the retired space shuttle Endeavour's new home at the California ScienCenter in Exposition Park. This was my mother's idea, who is as nostalgic about the Space Shuttle as I am. Details later in this post...

Exposition Park is also the home of the L.A. Coliseum, where the 1932 and 1984 Olympics were hosted (it's the only stadium to have hosted two Olympics), as well as where the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans play football.

Sculptor Robert Graham created these nude sculptures of a male and female athletes for the 1984 Olympics. My father actually had the pleasure of meeting Graham briefly by chance several years ago. My Dad was waiting at an office on business and there was this scruffy-looking older man, almost homeless-looking, waiting in the same lobby. Any of you who know my Dad knows he will strike up a conversation with anyone, and he did. He asked what the man did for a living, the man said he was an artist. My Dad asked if there were any pieces of work that he did that my Dad might recognize. These sculptures are the ones Graham mentioned to my Dad. Dad said the life lesson he learned with this experience was to "not judge a book by its cover." Good lesson...

After a few moments admiring the front of the stadium, my family moved on to the ScienCenter, the new home of the space shuttle Endeavour. It is free to enjoy the museum itself, and $2 per person to see the space shuttle. I happily paid my money. 

I have had a fascination with space and the space shuttle since childhood. I think part of this is because I spent about six years of my childhood in Houston, Texas, home of Johnson Space Center, where much of the shuttle program was developed and managed. Every year my class would take a field trip to the Center, and it was also the No. 1 tourist destination for my family when we were entertaining out-of-town guests. My Mom said that I was there so often that I was able to give the guided tour myself by the time I was 8. Here are some of the photos I managed to find in my parents' albums:

Me trying on a space helmet in 1982 at the age of 6. I remembered that I liked this one because I could see all around. My brother, Joe,  who was 3 at the time, appeared to have selected a different one.
Mom, Joe and me with the shuttle mock-up that was used for training.
Playing with our plastic space shuttle toys. The cargo bay doors on top really opened! ;)
My brother, me, and my cousins, Marianne and Heather at the Center in 1983 when they visited us from California.  I also remember that the elastic on those bloomer shorts was tight on my legs.
I also spent half of a semester in grad school studying the communication involved with NASA and the space program, so that renewed my interest in the subject. One of my bucket list items is to go to space. Not necessarily outer space, but at least far enough where I can look out of the window and see Earth and be weightless. I hope to win the lottery so I can ride with Virgin Galactic or SpaceX, or have space travel become more commonplace in my lifetime so I can go on vacation to the moon or something. I wonder what SPF of sunscreen I would need...?

So, my infatuation with the space shuttle came full circle last weekend when I got to see Endeavour.

She was the youngest in the NASA shuttle fleet, built to replace the Challenger after that tragic 1986 accident.

Coincidentally, Endeavor was also the shuttle most used in partnership with Japan for projects, a fact I probably wouldn't have really noticed if I wasn't currently residing in that country.

As you walk in to the shuttle's hangar, you are funneled through a small museum of shuttle regalia, such as the shuttle toilet, shuttle tires used in an actual mission and a mockup of the California mission control.

Tires that have been in space... yes, you can touch them.

A shuttle toilet. No, you can't try it.

Once we were in the hangar, we, along with the rest of the visitors, got our requisite photo with the Endeavor. My children were good sports about my excitement and wonder... but unless there were going to be operational laser guns on the shuttle, a la Star Wars, (which there weren't) the boys were minimally interested.

Fun fact: Because California is prone to earthquakes, the shuttle is mounted specialized stabilizers:

Hanging on the walls around the hangar was a timeline of all the shuttle missions. I took pictures of the ones I thought were most important: The start and end of the shuttle program, the maiden voyages of each shuttle, the two shuttle tragedies, and some of Endeavor's missions. If you read the captions on the Endeavor's you can see how much she was involved in Japanese space missions:

Of course, like any good museum, there was a gift shop at the end of it. I got a cloth patch (my parents started collecting them for me when I was a baby) to add to my collection of places I have been. However, there was a t-shirt I was tempted to purchase, that had this design on it:

This space-loving girl found it funny.

Day in L.A. Part 2 coming up in the next post...

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