Creating Endeavour’s Forever Home
ZGF Principal and Project Manager Kimberly Kilgour outlines the Space Shuttle Endeavour's California Science Center home.
Having previously completed both the master plan and design of the original California Science Center building (Phase 1) and the west wing, Ecosystems (Phase 2), the Los Angeles office of ZGF Architects was thrilled to be selected to also design the center’s third phase, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, a new east wing which will become the shuttle’s new home.
Scheduled to open in 2018, the new building will include separate Air, Space, and Space Shuttle galleries, displaying vintage aircraft, space-related artifacts, and of course the main attraction, Endeavour.
Moving Endeavour from LAX to the Science Center was quite an undertaking, but designing and building the shuttle’s display gallery has proven to be just as challenging.
A Room with a View
One of the most impressive and surprising aspects of the project is that the shuttle will eventually be displayed vertically in its launch position, along with two solid rocket boosters and NASA’s last remaining external tank. The scale of the external tank is immense: It towers over 15 stories high (153.8 feet) erect and tips the scales at 66,000 pounds. Its massive size and delicate nature led the Science Center to opt to transport it from New Orleans to Los Angeles via barge making passage through the Panama Canal. Designing a space that can accommodate both the behemoth external tank and the space shuttle that is more than double its weight and due to be positioned as if poised for launch was not an easy task. As project manager Kimberly Kilgour explains, “The fact that Endeavour is going to be positioned vertically in the launch position is a big deal. Although the main air and space galleries will be horizontal, the shuttle’s display area will be a 190-foot-tall, conical-shaped space, which made designing the viewing areas a challenge. To best leverage the vertical orientation, we designed viewing areas on three different levels. The very top viewing platform will have a glass floor, where small groups can look down into the cockpit, while the ‘gantry tower’ viewing area mimics an actual NASA launch tower and offers a direct view into the shuttle’s payload bay.”
An Immersive Experience
When the external tank arrives, it will be followed by a separate delivery of over 100,000 pieces of hardware required to attach it to the orbiter. The pieces range from 25-foot wide structural attachment beams, to thousands of nuts, bolts, and washers, all of which will need to be precisely reassembled. “Unfortunately, there are no instructions, so it will be a massive learning exercise,” Kilgour adds. Once the orbiter, external tank, and solid rocket boosters are attached, the completed stack will weigh in at just under 450,000 pounds.
Protecting a National Treasure
Housing this historic artifact in the heart of earthquake country means that protecting it from a seismic event is extremely important. As Kilgour describes, “It’s been an interesting challenge to seismically isolate the shuttle separately from the building. Our solution was to have the shuttle sitting on an eight-foot-deep concrete pad, with six seismic base isolators below it so it can move independently of the building.” Each of the solid rocket boosters will be bolted to the isolator pad using the same four hold down bolts that were used on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. ZGF also had to ensure there’s enough clearance for the viewing galleries, because the base and top can move three feet and six feet in any direction, respectively.
You can learn more about the Endeavour exhibit by visiting the California Science Center’s website.
Featured image courtesy of NASA/Jim Ross