Endeavour Makes History at California Science Center

Sometimes history is made by “firsts,” like the first solo flight across the Atlantic or the first footstep on the moon.  Other times, history is made by “lasts,” such as the last automobile of a rare model to roll off the assembly line or the last space shuttle flight.  Today, the California Science Center marked an historic first and last.  A key part of a delicate operation entitled “Go for Payload” took place, which involved the instillation of a flown SPACEHAB (sort-of like an extra room that could be added to orbiters) into space shuttle Endeavour.  Go for Payload is the first time that an operational orbiter’s payload bay doors have been opened on Earth outside of either the Palmdale assembly facility or the Kennedy Space Center, and the last time that payload will be inserted into an orbiter.

Upon entering the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, it was striking to see space shuttle Endeavour – a now familiar fixture at the Center – with its payload bay doors open.

Endeavour with payload bay doors open. ©Matt Vasko
Endeavour with payload bay doors open.
©Matt Vasko

On hand for the occasion was retired NASA Astronaut and first teacher is space, Barbara R. Morgan, who flew aboard Endeavour on STS-118, serving as mission specialist.

Astronaut Barbara R. Morgan stands in front of space shuttle Endeavour. ©Matt Vasko
Astronaut Barbara R. Morgan stands in front of space shuttle Endeavour.
©Matt Vasko

After a brief introduction by Science Center CEO Jeff Rudolph, Morgan took time to reflect upon her nearly two-week-long mission aboard the orbiter in 2007.  STS-118 delivered 5,000 lbs. of equipment and supplies to the station, including seeds that had been selected for delivery by American school children.

Morgan compared floating in space to the feeling one has when flying in a dream.  She also paid homage to Christa McAuliffe, whose duties Morgan assumed as Teacher in Space Designee after the space shuttle Challenger accident, stating that she believes that McAuliffe deserves the distinction as America’s first teacher in space.

Dr. Kenneth Phillips, curator of the Endeavour: The California Story exhibition, performed a Q&A with Barbara R. Morgan, after witch, Morgan took questions from guests.  Most notably, one attendee asked what she had to say to school children who might not be interested in science, but are still interested in participating in the space program.  Morgan provided two answers.  The first was that if kids are interested in the space program they should be told that, “Every single subject matter and every single college degree you can think of – there are jobs at NASA for those people.”  The second answer (and most important in Morgan’s belief) was, “Everybody in this country [in order] to be a fully participating citizen, needs to think  mathematically and needs to be able to have an understanding of how the world works.  And more then anything you have to have that curiosity and that drive to continually learn.  And that’s where the sciences and the math come in.  So, I would say if the kids aren’t necessarily interested, then it is up to us teachers to make science and math really fun so that they can get engaged in it and they can really get a feel for the joy of exploration, discovery, research, and things like that.”

With that inspiration in mind, it was time for the main event.  A crane was used to slowly and meticulously hoist the SPACEHAB into the payload bay of Endeavour.  The following photos chronicle the event.

Technicians prepare the SPACEHAB module to be lifted into the orbiter ©Matt Vasko
Technicians prepare the SPACEHAB module to be lifted into the orbiter
©Matt Vasko
The comparatively easy first part of lifting the SPACEHAB into place. ©Matt Vasko
The comparatively easy first part of lifting the SPACEHAB into place.
©Matt Vasko
Turning the SPACEHAB while being careful to avoid obstacles. ©Matt Vasko
Turning the SPACEHAB while being careful to avoid obstacles.
©Matt Vasko
Progress was slow, but deliberate and skillful. ©Matt Vasko
Progress was slow, but deliberate and skillful.
©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB reaches the top of its ascent and is ready to be turned into position. ©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB reaches the top of its ascent and is ready to be turned into position.
©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB enters the payload bay. ©Matt Vasko
The SPACEHAB enters the payload bay.
©Matt Vasko
Live feed of the SPACEHAB in its final position inside Endeavour. ©Matt Vasko
Live feed of the SPACEHAB in its final position inside Endeavour.
©Matt Vasko

With the SPACEHAB safely at rest inside of Endeavour’s payload bay, the event drew to a close and the Pavilion opened to visitors for the day.  There is still work to be done, such as installing the tube that will connect the SPACEHAB to the airlock, but a major milestone in the history-making first/last event had been achieved.

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