The Soft Side of Endeavour: What Space Exploration Means to Me

Space shuttle Endeavour at California Science Center. Photo by Ariane Coffin.
Space Shuttle Endeavour at California Science Center. Photo by Ariane Coffin.

While my in-laws were visiting us last month, we took them and our two kids to see Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. When I walked into the hangar and saw Endeavour, I got a little teary-eyed. I am not usually an emotional person, and certainly not one to attach meaning to objects, but Endeavour may always be the exception to my rule.

I saw Endeavour and remembered our first visit to see the shuttle eleven months ago. It was the very day we found out I was pregnant with the baby I was now holding in my arms. We had been trying to get pregnant for a long time, so seeing the shuttle symbolized not only the end of an era for the shuttle itself, but also the end of an era in our lives: We were finally done with the hardships of infertility. Seeing Endeavour was the end of our own endeavor and the launch of our next adventure.

I suggested to my husband that we name our unborn daughter Endeavour after that meaningful day. He, who had been much less moved by the coincidence of a positive pregnancy test falling on the same day as our Endeavour visit, quickly shut it down. “But think about how cute the nickname Endie would be,” I argued. In retrospect, it was probably a wise move on his part. Nevertheless, she will always be my Endeavour baby to me.

There are three of us in both photos! Photo by Ariane Coffin.
There are three of us in both photos! Photo by Ariane Coffin.

It wasn’t the only reason I felt sentimental. There was also something incredibly surreal about seeing the shuttle. This one object, standing right there in front of me, had been in space. Space! It wasn’t a video of the shuttle, it wasn’t a photograph of the shuttle, it was the shuttle. And it had seen things we can only dream of.

The essence of its presence left the adults in an humbled silence, but it was completely lost on my preschooler and the other children her age. They were all glued to the one television screen playing scenes from an Endeavour launch. Tried as I might to explain that this shuttle right here was the one in the launch video, the video was evidently much cooler in their mind’s eye. I have to admit there was still something special about seeing a space shuttle launch, so I let them be. They will see—really see—the shuttle itself soon enough.

Finally, the last part of my sorry-I-have-something-in-my-eye moment was what the shuttle represents for my daughters’ future. Space exploration stands for discovery and knowledge. It stands for the feats of engineering and a defiance against the seemingly impossible. It stands for a dream that our children will know a world bigger than our own.

Our children may not yet fully grasp the significance of Endeavour. Surely no one else, small or tall, will ever have warm fuzzy feelings for Endeavour for all the same reasons I do. My own baby story notwithstanding, I have nothing but good things to say about our visits to Endeavour, let alone the California Science Center as a whole—perhaps with the exception of L.A. traffic. We may or may not colonize Mars one day, but early exposure to space exploration can only help inspire the next generation of movers and shakers.

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Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found writing about STEM travel at Geekling's Guide to the Galaxy.