The massive Space Shuttle Endeavour headlines the show at the sprawling California Science Center in L.A.'s Exposition Park, but it's just one of many brain-stimulating exhibits. Budding scientists, next-generation innovators, and lifelong learners will find inspiration in more than 100 state-of-the-art displays extolling the wonders of aeronautics, physics, human and animal biology, and nature's ecosystems.
The awe-inspiring Endeavour arrived here in 2012 after its 25th journey into space. The 132-foot-long shuttle—a spacecraft with wings—made a grand entrance to the Science Center, starting with a dramatic flight strapped to the back of a Boeing 747 followed by a three-day cruise around L.A.'s streets. Now housed in its own pavilion, Endeavour is a marvel of space-travel innovation. Museum guests can touch its tires and landing gear and see a few ingenious innovations used in the crew compartment, including "space potty" vacuum toilets and a warming oven for heating tortillas and freeze-dried food.
Rocket-science fans will enjoy seeing relics from America's earlier space exploration era, including the 1975 Apollo command module and the 1961 Mercury capsule that carried a chimpanzee into space. The Air and Space exhibit also includes a 1902 Wright brothers' glider and an A-12 Blackbird spy plane.
Kids will gravitate toward the hands-on, interactive experiences in the Science Center's World of Life gallery, where they can satisfy their curiosity about the human body. They'll step inside an immersive "womb room" to experience the journey from conception to birth, hop on a red blood cell and take a cyber-flight through the circulatory system, and learn how human organs work from Tess, a 50-foot-tall animatronic doll.
Aspiring Einsteins can immerse themselves in the science of physics and its impacts on human innovation and technology. While they ride a bicycle across a one-inch cable 43 feet above the ground, they'll learn about the law of gravity (but they can't fall—a counterweight offsets their body weight). They can also step into a cockpit and play with interactive flight simulators or burn some energy by climbing a 23-foot rock wall.
All ages will be mesmerized by the Ecosystems gallery, where a 28-foot-high saltwater tank offers a window into a Pacific Ocean kelp forest. Leopard sharks, moray eels, and bat rays swim among the waving kelp fronds. In the Island Zone, learn about Darwin's theory of evolution by seeing the unique adaptations of island-dwelling animals, and peer into a 7,000-gallon reef tank filled with colorful Hawaiian reef fish.
Time your visit so you can enjoy some dazzling edu-tainment in the Science Center's seven-story IMAX theater, which features 3D documentaries about African wildlife, life under the sea, and travel to outer space. Admission to the California Science Center is free, except for IMAX theater shows and special exhibits, but you must reserve a timed-entry ticket in advance.