In Praise of Museums, for EndeavourLA

7 Oct

This afternoon, I crafted a first draft of the last class schedule of my undergrad career. Needless to say, it made me look back on the last four years, mostly in disbelief. Here’s a picture I took with my digital camera (back when everyone I knew carried around digital camera, phone, and iPod as three separate entities, as a matter of course) at my first football game (not my first USC football game, my first football game ever.  I still don’t really know how football works.)

FOUR. YEARS. Let's not even try to pretend that makes sense. George Bush was president, the first iPads were still two years away, America had manned spaceflight capability, there were murmurs of trouble in the housing market, China had hosted the summer Olympics, the LHC was about to switch on, and I -- I was an English major.

See the California Science Center behind all the people and all the pretty trees? I didn’t, at the time. (My sense of direction is, as previously mentioned, dire. I was concentrating on making sure I could get back to my dorm by nightfall in case I lost the rest of the group from my floor. Hello, freshman year.)

But I love a museum. I grew up in Chicago; I took the Field Museum and the Museum of Science & Industry (and all the rest) completely for granted, the way you do when you’re a kid. For the weekend of my 21st birthday, my parents flew out and we went to the museums in Balboa Park. The summer before my junior year, my grandparents took us all to Europe. The trip in my mind is a haze of sleep-deprivation that I can link to various photographs only through the power of repeated rehearsal, but the one thing that I remember with any real clarity is this:

My friend and yours, Charles Darwin.

So, really, I love a museum.

But the Exposition Park museums will always hold a special place in my heart. The California Science Center is where I saw the Hubble IMAX movie. The Natural History Museum is where I go when I need a vacation in the middle of the week. (Plus they have new dinosaurs!)

I was thrilled to hear that the CA Science Center would be getting the shuttle Endeavour after its retirement, even though the decommissioning and transport will presumably take a long enough time that (pending grad school and job applications and the limbo that is the next few months), I probably won’t be living approximately across the street when Endeavour does arrive. But that’s okay, because I’m glad to know it will be here, anyway.

I’ve done some volunteer teaching in Los Angeles through organizations here at school, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that kids love science. They may not know it, and they may not like science class, but when you show them the real basis of scientific work and progress — show them rocket launches and teach them games about neurons and show them how the bones in a whale’s fin match up to their fingers — every kid loves that.

So I’m really happy to know that Endeavour will be here in the heart of this strange city that still makes very little sense to me. If not for nerdy 21-year-olds, then at least for young hopeful future astronauts.

I also feel extremely fortunate to be attending the Endeavour LA Launch event, although calling it a Launch event is bittersweet. I keep searching for closure on the shuttle program. It had been around my entire life, and in the most recent years, I would always try to catch launches and landings on live feeds online. In fact, a big part of my college experience — the good part, the part I’ll remember — was rushing home during breaks between classes to watch shuttles launch and land on tiny little windows on my laptop screen, eating sushi or drinking tea or reading Shakespeare. That, to me, was perfection, and it’s something I’m just now realizing I’ll be very sad to lose — the mundane, lunchbreak launches of human beings into space.

Even when I’m long gone from here, there will be some other freshman who tends too much towards introspection, and she won’t be able to watch shuttle launches from her laptop — at least not live ones. But when she needs a break from her real life, she’ll be able to cross that street and have her pick of dinosaurs and space shuttles.


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