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Space shuttle Endeavour exhibit officially opens to public

The children filed into the building two by two, holding hands with their classmates so they wouldn't get lost in the crowd. Some pointed and grinned. Others stared in silence, their necks craned back as they eyed the 57-foot-tall space shuttle. 

"On TV it's very small," 6-year-old Elaine McNeil said. "When I see it in real life, it's really big and humongous. I don't know how they fit it in here."

The children were some of the first visitors to see space shuttle Endeavour in its new home at the California Science Center, which opened the doors to the Samuel Oschin display pavilion Tuesday. Hundreds of people lined up outside to see the retired orbiter, which arrived in Los Angeles last month.

FULL COVERAGE: Endeavour's final journey to L.A.

Frankie Medina, 6, who wants to be an astronaut, said he couldn't really describe his reaction.

"I just feel like I'm gonna burst on the floor," he said.

Several public officials were also on hand to mark the pavilion's opening at a morning ceremony, including Gov. Jerry Brown, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts. The family of late astronaut Sally Ride was also in attendance, along with actresses June Lockhart ("Lost in Space") and Nichelle Nichols ("Star Trek").

Time-lapse video: Endeavour's crosstown journey

"California’s always been at the forefront of space development and exploration," the governor said. "This wonderful space shuttle was built by Rockwell, not too many miles from here. And even today, the Mars rover is out there on Mars, being driven by people in Pasadena. Californians.... It's amazing what it does for the human imagination."

Villaraigosa called Endeavour's return to California — which included a three-day, cross-country trip and 12-mile crawl through city streets — a "spectacular" story that would inspire children to be scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

"This isn't just a ribbon-cutting for Endeavour's home," he said. "This is a ribbon-cutting for the future of L.A."

Panorama: Endeavour at the California Science Center

The shuttle will be displayed in the temporary pavilion until the museum builds a new air and space wing, a 170,000-square-foot facility that should open in about five years. There, the shuttle will be displayed vertically as though it is about to launch, complete with an external tank and twin solid rocket boosters.

As the pavilion filled with visitors Tuesday, scientist and television personality Bill Nye's eyes scanned the crowd as he proclaimed the day "fantastic."

"When you see an object like this ... it changes you," he said of the shuttle. "It changes the way you think about what humans can do. It changes the way you think about your place among the stars."

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— Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

 
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