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NASA preps for space shuttle Endeavour's LA retirement

June 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
NASA is a step closer to the end of the space shuttle program. Endeavour returned safely to Earth Tuesday night at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the shuttle's last flight.

There are just three shuttles: Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Endeavour will be brought to the California Science Center in Exposition Park. People at the center said they are very excited.

"It's an incredible honor for us to be entrusted with something that belongs to everybody in the country," said curator Ken Phillips from California Science Center. "This is a national treasure."

Endeavor has Southern California in its DNA. It was fabricated in Downey, built in Palmdale and often landed at Edwards Air Force Base.

The shuttle touched down around 11:25 p.m. PST and culminated a 16 day mission. Endeavour went to the International Space Station, where the crew performed extra-vehicular activities that completed construction to the space station.

Endeavour has flown 25 times to space, covering 123 million miles. After the mission Commander Mark Kelley talked about the more than two weeks in space/

"This stuff is really, really difficult," Kelley said. "And to do it with a group of people that are just so accomplished, and so experienced, it makes it very easy for me. Makes my job a lot easier to have guys like this on this crew, so I'll remember them more than anything."

Kelly is the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. Giffords attended the liftoff, but was not able to attend the landing of Endeavour due to the odd hours.

Before Endeavour makes its way to Los Angeles, it will undergo a decommission process at Kennedy Space Center to remove toxic materials.

Endeavour is expected to be on display at the California Science Center in fall of 2012. Once the science center receives it, the shuttle will be placed in a temporary enclosure for display until the new exhibit wing is completed.

Endeavour will eventually be the centerpiece of a planned $200 million museum expansion.

"It has this incredible capacity to inspire young people - and people of all ages - to make them want to learn more," said Jeff Rudolph, president and CEO of the California Science Center.

The presence of the shuttle will have an economic impact for Los Angeles.

"Easily above $100 million," said John Blank of the Los Angeles Development Economic Corporation. He said that is over the lifetime of the shuttle exhibit.

But that number may pale in comparison to the potential pay-off down the road. Blank says seeing the shuttle up close may inspire children to follow careers in science that can lead to new discoveries or form companies.

"What if there's several hundred small entrepreneurial science firms that flow into the business of science? That's in the tens of billions, if not higher," he said.

NASA is now focused on the final shuttle mission. The space shuttle Atlantis is on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. It was moved just hours before Endeavour touched down.

Atlantis will have a four person crew. It is scheduled to lift off July 8, completing the 30-year space shuttle program.


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