One of the most eye-catching and difficult aspects of the California Science Center’s $400-million Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center project to create a space shuttle exhibit took place Jan. 29. Crews rolled the 180,000-lb Endeavor onto a 100,000-lb, steel sling designed by NASA and lifted it at the front and rear by two cranes into the air. Once the shuttle was high enough, the back of the sling was lowered and the larger crane, which can lift 750 metric tons, continued to hoist the spaceship vertically. 

“The move and lift is one of the biggest challenges of the project,” says Jeffrey Rudolph, president and CEO of the California Science Center. “This is the first time anything like this has been done before. The shuttle is essentially a big glider and we are lifting it 300 feet in the air, so we have to be very careful and precise—and if there is any wind, it is a serious problem.” 

Endeavour successfully completed 25 missions into space, including the first service mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as the first mission to add a U.S. component to the International Space Station.

Three days prior, crews covered the Endeavor with industrial-strength shrink wrap and rolled it a few hundred yards across the campus to its new location, next to its rockets and fuel tank. 

When the bottom of the shuttle was high enough to clear a roughly 100 ft-tall wall, crews lowered and bolted it to its two rocket boosters and 180-ft tall external tank. Tag lines and special, heavy-duty blankets on the wings were used to help stabilize the ship and get it in the correct position. 

Rudolph says this is the first time a space shuttle has been stacked with its flight components for an exhibit anywhere in the world. He says when NASA mated other shuttles for launches, they had platforms and elevators to help connect pieces, but here they were in tight spaces, requiring scaffolding. 

Space Shuttle Insert_ENRwebready.jpgPhoto courtesy of California Space Center

Once the roughly four-hour-long mating process was complete, crews erected scaffolding covered with plywood and kevlar fabric to protect the full shuttle stack from the elements and construction. The team can now finish building the 200,000 sq-ft structure that will house the 20-story vertical display of the Endeavor, along with 150 educational exhibits spanning three galleries in the four-story Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. 

The shuttle stack exhibit weighs approximately 500,000 lbs and sits atop a base seismic isolator pad that is about 8 ft thick, 45 ft wide and 75 ft long. 

The design of the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will give a nod to the shuttle and the technology used to build it, says Ted Hyman, managing partner with ZGF Architects. 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, he says.  “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 project, which is now about 50 percent complete, was designed by ZGF, with Arup serving as structural engineer and MATT Construction leading construction. Evidence Design is in charge of exhibit design. Remaining work includes completing building facades, interior work, all of the MEP and life safety systems, and the roof enclosure around the Shuttle Stack. 

Rudolph says the project should complete in about three years.

“The space around the shuttle stack wants to be wide open to both enclose the stack over its 80-ft width and depth and 180-ft height, as well as provide space around the stack for viewing from various locations, angles and vantage points,” says Amie Nulman, associate principal with Arup. “In order to accomplish this, we basically designed a 200-ft-tall roof.”

The team used cantilevered concrete shear walls for the bottom third of the hall, then a roughly 140-ft-tall steel braced frame/diagrid type roof structure for the remaining height. “And in order to decrease the risk of the building enclosing the Shuttle Stack artifact collapsing on top of it during an earthquake, we used a performance-based design, or alternate means of compliance to the building code, to design the tall, diagrid steel braced frame roof to a higher level of seismic performance than a typical building code-based design,” says Nulman.