Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Big Bear Snow Day

One of the perks of being in the So Cal area is that you can go from sea to summit in one day, from coast to the mountains and back. 

I had been to Big Bear over the summer to camp and hike, and returning now in January to snowboard, on a morning met with periodic snow flurries, was like visiting an entirely different location.  The snow completely transforms the place.

The snow-dusted pine needles and the color contrast of evergreen and heather to the pure white slopes are clear reminders of the artistry of the great outdoors.  I'm always longing to be in the forest, surrounded by trees, breathing in air accented by sap and damp earth. In short: I was most thankful for the brief hiccup in my normal schedule and routine, rejuvenated by chilled air and timber-topped mountains.

Monday, January 21, 2013

California Science Center: Space Shuttle Endeavor - Los Angeles, California

Very few of us will ever actually be able to travel to space, but if you are a Southern California resident or visiting the Los Angeles area, then a trip to the California Science Center gets you a bit of the experience.

Space Shuttle Endeavor, a retired orbiter of the NASA space shuttle program, is housed there.  And it was the endeavor to get it there too.  You must have a specific (but free) ticket to get a peak of this spacecraft, which gives you a designated time appointment to view it.  You can do this when you arrive at the museum, but you might want to do it in advance to be on the safe side (it currently is undeniably the most popular attraction at the museum).

I, for one, was not really aware of the difference between a space shuttle and a rocket, so I'll share just a few facts on space shuttles and Space Shuttle Endeavor specifically:

  • Space shuttles are (partially) reusable spacecrafts, where as the Apollo mission space crafts were one-time-use only.  
  • The Space Shuttle Endeavor was named after the HMS Endeavor, the ship which took Captain James Cook on his voyage through the south Pacific ocean from 1768-1771.
  • Over a 19 year career (it's first launch was in 1981) the space shuttle logged 123 million miles.

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when seeing it or how it would be displayed...how it could be displayed. After you walk through an exhibit area of various NASA artifacts, a space shuttle simulator, and loads of informational paragraphs printed on walls, you are directed downstairs to a separate warehouse space where the shuttle is kept.  When you walk in, the shuttle fills the entire space. Almost everyone immediately stops at the door to start snapping photos, and you can't help but catch the fever as well.

When you get closer, you notice the texture of the exterior of the shuttle is quite unique. I guess I thought it would be glossy or something, but it almost looks like a quilt...patch-work like.

It is difficult to put the shuttle in it's proper context, to truly conceptualize that this was something that flew through space, outside of our great green planet, out in the great unknown frontier.  It is an impressive piece of machinery, and you wonder and all the engineering genius that went behind it's creation.  Walking beneath it's wings and standing behind it's engines is a reminder of our own smallness.  Don't miss the humbling.

A visit to the California Science Center gives you a taste of being a astronaut in more ways than one. Not only is it the home of Space Shuttle Endeavor, but the museum gift shop also offers astronaut ice cream.  Feeling it through the package breeds instant skepticism: it feels like a styrofoam square, but it is actually rather good to the taste buds.  Maybe astronauts don't really eat this, but I choose to think that they do.

Certainly worth a visit and it is entirely FREE, so what have you to lose?  It might just be as close to 'out of this world' as you'll ever get.