Two huge rocket motors traversed the streets of Los Angeles recently as they made their way to the California Science Center, where they will become part of a new 100,000 sq-ft exhibit showcasing the historic Space Shuttle Endeavour. 

The 116 ft-long Solid Rocket Motors completed on Oct. 11 a two-day 100-mile trip from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., where they have been housed since 2020. They will be permanently housed in the 200,000 sq-ft Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, set for completion in 2025. The $400-million project involves a complex, multi-phase process of moving and lifting each of the space shuttle components into place for the permanent exhibit. 

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.

To complete the shuttle stack, the two rocket motors will be stacked atop rocket booster aft skirts, followed by addition of forward assemblies. The space shuttle external tank will then be lifted into place, followed by the project’s centerpiece, The Endeavour, positioned vertically in "ready for launch" configuration. The shuttle was delivered to the center in 2012 where it has been on display.

When complete, the shuttle stack exhibit will weigh about 500,000 lbs and sit atop a base seismic isolator pad that is about 8 feet thick, 45 ft wide and 75 ft-long. 

Amie Nulman, ARUP associate principal, says to ensure stability and safety in an earthquake-prone city like Los Angeles, the team worked with ex-space shuttle engineers and used a program called LS Dyna to run the structure through multiple earthquake scenarios. “The six, triple-friction pendulum base isolators located beneath the space shuttle will allow the earth to move up to 30 inches in a seismic event,” says ARUP. 

The rocket motors to be used for this exhibit consist only of the steel cases, each weighing about 99,000 lbs. If prepared for an actual shuttle flight, the motors would be filled with propellant and weigh about 1.255 million lbs. They will be lifted into place using two, 300-ton mobile cranes. Bolts donated by NASA from the Space Shuttle flight inventory or manufactured to NASA design requirements, will be used to attach each flight element.