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Endeavour shuttle helps draw 1 million visitors to Science Center

March 11, 2013 |  2:32 pm

Shuttle
More than 1 million people have visited the California Science Center since space shuttle Endeavour arrived about four months ago, a considerable boost for the Exposition Park museum that had averaged about 1.6 million visitors a year.

Science Center officials initially guessed about 2 million people would see the shuttle in the first year after the display opened Oct. 31.

But now the museum  estimates that at least 2.5 million people could see the retired orbiter in its first year at the Science Center.

"In terms of numbers, it's exceeded our expectations," said Science Center president Jeffrey Rudolph.

"It's surpassed them," said Lynda Oschin, whose foundation made what was described as an "extraordinary" financial contribution to bring the shuttle to Los Angeles. The Mr. and Mrs. Samuel and Lynda Oschin Foundation was formed in honor of Oschin's late husband, a Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist.

"I never dreamed that it would be this important to L.A.," Oschin said. "To see all the people come out, all the children ... it's mind boggling to me, the whole thing. It's still unbelievable to me."

The Science Center had long dreamed of obtaining a space shuttle — aerospace curator Ken Phillips first pitched the idea to Rudolph two decades ago. NASA awarded the orbiter to the California Science Center in April 2011 after a competitive national search.

It’s the only museum outside the East Coast with a shuttle.

The two other museums that house orbiters — the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia — both reported increased attendance since their own displays opened. The final shuttle, Atlantis, will be showcased at a new facility at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which is expected to open later this year.

For now, Endeavour is housed in a temporary display pavilion. But museum officials are already drawing up designs for the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, an air and space wing, expected to open in about five years. The shuttle will be displayed vertically in the new wing.

On Monday, the museum unveiled another orbiter-themed exhibit: "Mission 26: The Big Endeavour," which documents the shuttle's celebratory flight over California and its 12-mile, three-day trek from Los Angeles International Airport to Exposition Park last year.

The exhibit is the second to accompany the temporary pavilion. The new display includes photographs of the shuttle's move (including images from Times photographers), video and a bulletin board where visitors can post their own messages about the shuttle.

It also includes a rotating display of Endeavour-related projects from Century Park Elementary School in Inglewood. When Amy Davis' fifth-grade class saw the shuttle fly over the school in September, one student was so moved by the experience he began to cry. Davis wrote the Science Center, which later asked her class for help in putting together the new exhibit.

Davis teared up when talking about her students' work.

"To see their work and everything here — it just validates who they are as scholars," she said. "I tell them every day how brilliant they are, how beautiful they are, how much they can go out and change the world. And this proves it to them."

Tori Morris, 10, and her classmates were excited to see their projects unveiled.

"This is like, very amazing to see our projects in a museum because not a lot of schools have this opportunity," Morris said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance."

School groups were just part of the stream of visitors that filled the display pavilion Monday. Guests stopped almost immediately after entering, snapping photos of the shuttle in awe.

"Keep moving," a museum attendant said.

Sharon Carbonneau and her family spent Monday at the museum as part of their vacation from Albuquerque, N.M. It wasn't the reason they visited Los Angeles — that was Disneyland — but still something they wanted to see.

"It's just a piece of history," Carbonneau said. "We may never get a chance to see it actually launch but we figured we could come and see a piece of history."

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— Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

Photo: Fifth-graders from Century Park Elementary School look at pictures of space shuttle Endeavour at the opening of a new exhibit Monday at the California Science Center. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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