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Space Shuttle Endeavour's Rockets Installed in Permanent Exhibit at California Science Center

In a meticulously orchestrated maneuver, crews at the California Science Center achieved a significant milestone by successfully installing the giant rockets of the space shuttle Endeavour, marking a crucial phase in the creation of the shuttle's permanent exhibit.

The solid rocket motors, generously donated by Northrup Grumman, are colossal structures, each comparable in size to a Boeing 757 fuselage and weighing an impressive 104,000 pounds. These mammoth components were delicately moved from a horizontal to a vertical position by a crane before being lowered into place at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, the future home of the Endeavour.

The intricate process involved attaching each solid rocket motor to the base of the solid rocket booster, known as the aft skirt, using 177 one-inch diameter pins that are about 2 inches long. The successful installation of the first rocket took place on Tuesday, with the second one following suit on Wednesday.

California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph expressed his excitement, stating, "It felt great. We've got two solid rocket motors standing tall in the new building now."

Visitors to the museum can now catch a glimpse of the top of the rockets from outside the construction site, and at one point during the crane lift, the solid rocket motors were visible from the nearby 110 Freeway.

This week's achievement represents a crucial step in the six-month mission to assemble the permanent exhibit for Endeavour, the final space shuttle orbiter ever constructed. The exhibit will showcase Endeavour in a full stack configuration, resembling its readiness for launch, making it the only surviving U.S. orbiter displayed in this position.

Unlike the traditional procedure conducted at NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building in Florida during the era of space shuttle flights, the California Science Center's crews had to develop unique techniques for this installation. Scaffolding was erected along the aft skirts to facilitate the insertion of connecting pins.

The meticulous planning and execution paid off, with Tuesday's installation taking place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday's even quicker, starting at 8 a.m. and concluding by 10 a.m.

The next phase will involve building an additional 30 vertical feet of scaffolding to install external tank attach rings, which will connect the solid rocket motors to the massive orange external tank. Subsequent steps include the installation of the forward assembly, including the nose cone and forward skirt, with the forward skirt being a crucial weight-bearing connection.

The most dramatic installations are expected after the winter holidays, with the external tank scheduled for lifting into place in early January. The Endeavour orbiter, set to be installed no earlier than the last week of January, will mark a significant moment when cranes, some as tall as Los Angeles City Hall, raise the shuttle vertically for its final display.

The Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, a $400 million project, will soar 20 stories tall upon completion. The California Science Center Foundation is actively raising the remaining $50 million required for the project. Endeavour has been on display at the temporary Samuel Oschin Pavilion since its arrival in 2012 and will be exhibited there until December 31 before the grand unveiling at the new center.

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