Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Final Frontiers...

This happened when we first moved to LA. Unfortunately it was no where near our house, was during the work-day and, rather obviously, caused traffic to come to an absolute standstill, so there was no chance of seeing it. Husband was DEVASTATED to have missed it, so on Saturday we booked a time-slot to go and see the shuttle Endeavour.

I'm not particularly interested in space. Growing up, my dad was a massive fan and I had watched 'The Right Stuff' and every documentary made about the Apollo missions. On the anniversary of the moon landings, husband and I watched the whole BBC4 night of Space-TV. I know a bit about it, but the thought of going to wander round the outside of what is essentially a giant plane didn't hold any fascination. I ended up being seriously impressed.

Space shuttle. Those aren't windows. I thought they were.
The documentary they show right at the start was incredibly moving. The sheer grit determination it took to drive a space shuttle through the streets of LA was staggering. I couldn't help but imagine how the organisers planned the route, making arrangements to temporarily take down power lines, shaving branches from trees and otherwise making tiny but vital decisions. The whole thing was remote controlled- imagine being the guy that remote-control drove a space ship past a McDonald's in South Central LA? As if to demonstate the full impact this had on the community, we were waiting behind a dad with his two girls in the queue, and he was positively giddy with excitement. The older girl- maybe 12 years old- was desperately scanning the mission crew photos to find a picture of Dr Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. She talked excitedly of the doctor's work in the Peace Corps and how she was an astronaut AND a doctor. Looking with her dad, she found her in STS-47.

Schools in south LA went out en-masse to see the shuttle, either passing overhead strapped to the back of a plane of lining the streets outside to watch as it snaked through the city. The legacy of that is a young woman completely inspired by what she had learned, a father encouraging her and a family bonding. It was incredible. I can only dream that we will be parents like that. Sadly, we lost sight of them, so I'll never know her reaction when she entered the 'space shed' to see the shuttle. I hope the others around her appreciated her excitement.

The shuttle was amazing. Really, truly, astonishingly incredible. It is a bit grubby. Some of the tiles were cracked. It was somehow simultaneously fancier and simpler than I expected it to be. I was completely overwhelmed by the capacity of man to create something that can reach space. That in the 1960s, before the internet, cell phones, DVRs or even a decent dishwasher, we not only sent men to the moon but brought them back again. Seeing the shuttle really brought all that home. My husband was blown away. In a fit of ill-thought out decision making, he studied aeronautical engineering as his 'elective' subject during his Masters at Georgia Tech. He said he didn't understand a word of it, but couldn't turn down the opportunity to learn what astronauts do. Given access to a rocket ship, he was like a 5 year old hopped up on candy. 

Tile damage. This thing has ACTUALLY been to SPACE.
The rest of the science museum was brilliant as well. It was fun, a good mix of kids activities and interesting facts and just generally awesome. Unlike every other museum in LA, it is free to get in. It's in a pretty crappy part of town. I love that there is free access to science and learning for these kids. The down side to this is that instead of the museum cafe, there is a McDonalds. Husband and I talked about this for ages. On the one hand, I am appalled by this. Corporate greed, the fact parents cannot escape trashy food and obnoxious marketing, how unhealthy fast food is.

This time, however, I'm ok with it. All of the above complaints are true. Parents shouldn't feel strong-armed into a Happy Meal. But museums in LA are so expensive- it's $12 for an adult to go into the National History Museum across the park, pushing it out of the price-range of many local families. California is bankrupt, they have reduced the school week in LA County in order to balance the books. Science funding in schools is virtually non-existent. If the replacement of the cafe with a corporate sponsor enables the museum to provide free entry, then to me, in this instance, I won't have a hissy fit.  But just this once...

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