During almost two decades of service, the space shuttle Endeavor flew 25 missions into space returning from orbit a final time in 2011. Its final journey across Los Angles in 2012 brought it to the California Science Center. The orbiter is currently housed in a The Samuel Oschin Pavilion at the science center, but its new home is under construction.

Earlier this year, the California Science Center in Los Angeles broke ground on a $400 million dollar, seismically-focused expansion that will showcase the iconic vessel in a 200,000-sq-ft building. When completed, the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will be the permanent home of Endeavor, one of the three remaining space shuttles that have flown into orbit. 

The Space Center is the third phase of the California Science Center’s three-phase, three-decade master plan to develop one of the world’s leading science learning centers. Construction is estimated to take three years. Roughly a year and a half into construction, space shuttle Endeavour will be moved off its current display and positioned in the Oschin Center, which will then be completed around the full shuttle stack.

"The Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will be a launchpad for creativity and innovation to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers," said California Science Center president and CEO Jeffrey Rudolph at the new building's June 1 groundbreaking.

The Oschin Center will feature three major multi-level galleries – air, space and shuttle. More than 150 educational exhibits will be featured in the galleries. 

The Endeavour will stand 200 feet tall in vertical "ready for launch" configuration within the new 20-story-tall structure clad in stainless steel. Standing out from other buildings at the California Science Center, it will be characterized by a curvilinear design, with inspiration drawn from Endeavour’s fuselage, cockpit, wings and vertical stabilizer. 

The project was designed by ZGF Architects, with Arup serving as structural engineer and MATT Construction leading construction. Evidence Design is in charge of exhibit design.

“The design will give a nod to the shuttle and the technology used to build it,” says Ted Hyman, managing partner with ZGF. The main part of the building will be three stories, with the shuttle gallery rising six stories, topping out at 200 ft to allow for the height of the vertical Endeavour. 

Hyman says visitors will enter the shuttle display from the third floor and see the ship completely vertical in the launch position, with the curved-shaped building “essentially evaporating” behind it. “The idea is to make it feel like you are standing out there on the launch pad seeing the shuttle in the dark, ready for takeoff.”

The biggest challenge his team faced was designing a building for a priceless piece of artwork like the shuttle, Hyman explains. “Do you put the shuttle up and build the building around it and risk something falling on it and destroying it, or do you build a building with a hole in it and figure out how to sling the shuttle into the building after it was done. In the end, the solution was to put it up and then build a temporary building around it to protect it.”

The shuttle, complete with its original rocket boosters, will sit atop a concrete pad in the middle of the gallery. Below the pad will be six base isolators to protect the vessel from a seismic event. The shuttle will be attached to the pad with its original launch pad anchor bolts, which are made of inconel steel and were used when Endeavour took off from Kennedy Space Center in the early 1990s and 2000s. 

Atila Zekioglu, project director for Arup, says his team worked with ex-Boeing engineers from the space shuttle program, which enabled Arup to “fine tune how much base isolation was needed to make sure that every structural element of Endeavor, including the solid rocket boosters and the external tank, was maintained to be safe under a major earthquake.”

He says the base isolators will allow the earth to move up to 30 in. below the shuttle in a seismic event. “Job number one for us was to protect this national treasure,” says Zekioglu. 

On top of protecting the artifact, designing the building that goes around it was also a challenge, says Amie Nulman, Arup project manager. “When the earthquake event happens, how do we make sure that both the artifact itself is safe and the building doesn't collapse on top of it,” she says. “So we used a performance-based design, alternate means of compliance to the code and even designed the diagrid that encompasses Endeavour to a higher level of seismic performance than a typical building code-based design,” says Nulman. 

The team designed a steel diagrid structure that is basically a large base frame that will surround the space shuttle, Nulman explains. With the help of a program called LS Dyna, the structure was run through multiple earthquake scenarios to ensure its best behavior in an earthquake, she says. 

This new building is complicated, with very tight tolerances, adds Ankur Verma, MATT Construction vice president. "It's one of those structures where you can't just keep building it and it will self-support,” says Verma. “It has to be temporarily supported until it's completely built, tied to the very top and then the temporary structures are removed. And for this to happen, each and every piece has to fit and be perfectly aligned for the structure to be stable, so making sure the structure is built exactly where the design shows is going to be very important.”