How California museum is protecting space shuttle Endeavour against earthquakes

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 a black cylinder rests atop a concrete cube, with an orange ladder on the ground nearby

a black cylinder rests atop a concrete dice, with an orange ladder on the bottom close by

Even earlier than it opened greater than a decade in the past, the exhibit of NASA’s retired area shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles has elicited one query maybe greater than another: Can it survive an earthquake?

And to suppose, that was whereas the winged orbiter was displayed close to the bottom in its horizontal, touchdown configuration.

Now, because the California Science Middle takes the primary steps to stack the car with a pair of dual strong rocket boosters and an exterior gas tank for a vertical, launchpad-like everlasting exhibit inside the brand new Samuel Oschin Air and Area Middle, the query has solely elevated in magnitude.

“Suffice it to say that the constructing and Endeavour shall be standing when L.A. is a pile of rubble,” Dennis Jenkins, director of the science middle’s mission to show Endeavour and a former NASA area shuttle engineer, stated in an interview with

Lots of analysis and know-how stands behind Jenkins’ reply, offering the boldness for he and his staff to go ahead with stacking the towering show.

Associated: The place are NASA’s area shuttles now?

illustration of a space shuttle on display at a museum, with dozens of visitors walking nearby

illustration of an area shuttle on show at a museum, with dozens of tourists strolling close by


When Endeavour was rolled into its pavilion on the finish of a three-day street journey in October 2012, it was mounted atop 4 friction-pendulum seismic isolators. Within the case of a strong earthquake, the shuttle would solely glide gently backwards and forwards, having been separated from the bottom.

Since that day, Caltech’s Southern California Earthquake Information Middle has recorded 7,383 occasions the the bottom shook strongly sufficient that folks within the space would possibly really feel it. 5 of these occasions have been violent sufficient to trigger minor injury. And one, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 2019, was felt by as many as 30 million folks spanning the size of the state.

“The one one which I keep in mind was the most important one,” stated Jenkins. “We went by and seemed on the surveillance cameras, and there was no motion [of Endeavour] — or at the least, none that we may understand.”

The identical kind of isolators are a part of the best way that Endeavour shall be saved protected within the vertical configuration, although the preparations and complexities concerned are larger.

Stress check

If you happen to’ve been to the California Science Middle to see Endeavour because it opened on show, you could have met Invoice Novak. He is among the docents serving to to reply company’ questions as they tour across the exhibit.

Novak additionally occurs to have been the lead of the shuttle masses group at Boeing (and Rockwell earlier than that).

“He and a number of other of his former coworkers supplied an excessive amount of enter on how the car reacts to masses,” stated Jenkins, including that the structural engineers for the Oschin Air and Area constructing took the lead within the earthquake research, however had no expertise with spaceflight {hardware}. “As soon as the 2 teams developed a typical language — structural engineering makes use of totally different terminology than aerospace engineering — it went fairly easily.”

What the 2 teams of engineers finally discovered stunned them each. The place initially Jenkins’ staff thought there was a bonus to utilizing duplicate {hardware} to include or conceal earthquake safety methods, the research discovered what was wanted was the actual factor — elements that, like Endeavour itself, have been constructed for flight.

a building's cement foundation surrounded by dirt and construction equipment

a constructing’s cement basis surrounded by dust and building tools

“Maybe probably the most essential end result of the seismic research was that, though vastly totally different from flight masses, the seismic masses have been utterly enveloped by the hundreds the area shuttle stack was designed to endure throughout ascent. This meant that we didn’t must make any modifications to the stack {hardware}, but it surely additionally meant that we wanted to make use of flight {hardware} in the entire essential purposes, since that’s what we modeled for the seismic research,” Jenkins stated.

Ultimately, the one essential parts that the science middle couldn’t supply from the leftovers of the area shuttle program have been the 2 rings that related the strong rocket booster to the aft exterior tank. As an alternative, that they had an area aerospace machine store construct a set to the unique specs because the flight {hardware} so that they have been basically interchangeable.

By utilizing all flight {hardware} — together with the final current exterior tank constructed for flight and twin boosters constructed up from beforehand flown segments — the area shuttle’s final design masses have been about 5% larger than the “most credible occasion.”

“So they’re considerably larger than the worst-case flight masses, however nonetheless throughout the functionality of the car to outlive with out everlasting injury,” stated Jenkins.

Associated: Info about NASA’s area shuttle, the first reusable spacecraft

Skirting the problem

On Thursday (July 20), if all went to plan, the primary giant parts of the shuttle stack have been hoisted by crane and lowered into their place contained in the still-under-construction Oschin Air and Area Middle. The 2 strong rocket booster aft skirts are the primary main elements to be moved, however they’re preceded by different {hardware} that may defend Endeavour’s vertical show.

The aft skirts are being seated atop an 8-foot-thick (2.4 meters), 1,800-ton slab of bolstered concrete that’s supported by six triple-pendulum isolators manufactured by Earthquake Safety Programs, Inc. (EPS), the identical firm that furnished the isolators for Endeavour’s horizontal show.

black-and-white diagram showing the base of a space shuttle stacked in the vertical configuration

black-and-white diagram exhibiting the bottom of an area shuttle stacked within the vertical configuration


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“There’s a 3-foot (0.9 m) moat across the floating concrete slab so it may possibly transfer three toes in any path,” stated Jenkins. “We do not dampen vertical movement, so no matter vertical movement the earthquake provides us is what we get, however horizontal movement we will transfer three toes in any path.”

The stack will then be secured to the slab utilizing the eight strong rocket booster “hold-down” posts on the aft skirts, the identical ones used to safe the shuttle to its cell launch platform when it was standing poised for launch.

“Our hold-down {hardware} is a bit totally different however conceptually equivalent — a hold-down stud with spherical bearings and a nut on the underside and a spherical bearing and spherical nut on prime. The 2 largest variations is that our hold-down studs are 9 toes lengthy (2.7 m), versus 31 inches (79 centimeters) for the flight studs, and our spherical nut will not be outfitted with pyros to blow it at T-0,” Jenkins stated.

Observe on Fb and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2023 All rights reserved.

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