Coming on the heels of a $130-million, high-tech renovation, the arrival of the retired space shuttle Endeavour in late 2012 was a game-changer for this aging science museum, now Exposition Park’s most popular destination. Endeavour’s temporary berth in the Samuel Oschin Pavilion (while awaiting completion of a new Air and Space Center in 2017) greets you with an exhibit detailing the shuttle program in California, where the orbiters were built. You can’t go inside Endeavor, but designers thoughtfully extracted a SPACEHAB module (a “spare room” for astronauts), tires from its last mission, the galley, and the all-important Space Potty for visitors’ inspection. Other air and space exhibits are located in the Science Court near the entrance.
Before Endeavour, the newest permanent exhibition was the Ecosystems wing, blending live plants and animals with hands-on science exhibits in a living kelp forest, a polar ice wall, a desert flash flood, L.A.’s urban ecology, and other environments. Tess, the transparent 50-foot animatronic woman who brings the principles of physiology vividly alive in the World of Life., is an enduring favorite. Museum admission is free, but some attractions, such as the High Wire Bicycle and the Motion-Based Simulator, charge fees of $2 to $4.50. A seven-story IMAX theater shows films throughout the day.