90,000 Miles to Me

21,888 Miles • King Tut and Endeavour

I spent a full day at the California Science Center, which was currently hosting a rare collection of items from the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt from 1336-1326 B.C.

Tutankhamun’s alabaster wishing cup, in the form of an open lotus with two buds.

This wasn’t yet another exhibit on the art of the mummy, rather a fuller exploration of ancient Egyptian funerary objects and rituals. For them, it was all about defeating death and time in pursuit of immortality.

This guided, wooden pen case is shaped like an architectural column with a palm tree capital. Tutankhamun would have used it to store reed pens.

It surprised me that Tut’s tomb was so small and that the items inside had been packed in there like in a storage unit. I had expected them to be somewhat more displayed? On show? At least more spread out.

A wooden osiride figure of Tutankhamun recumbent on a bier. The carved mummy wrappings and and bands on the figure provide protection from supernatural forces.

The other thing that stood out to me was an awe that these things had been buried in the desert for thousands of years and were still in visibly good shape.

The bird depicted the deceased’s soul, his ba, which could leave the tomb by day to fly, invisible, to the land of the living. It would return each night to be reunited with the mummy.

Fragile, yes, yet it boggles my mind that there are pieces of wood craftsmanship, wood boxes with wooden inlays of various types, walking sticks, statuettes, and more that, despite desert storms and being buried for so long, have survived better than many modern wooden boxes that are fewer than a hundred years old. 

This wooden box was filled with other precious treasures.

The lack of humidity in the desert and the near-hermetic seal of Tut’s tomb of course are the main contributing factors to that, but it still boggles my mind.

The other exhibit I was especially looking forward to was the space shuttle Endeavour. One of the actual space shuttles is right here in Los Angeles, and I can walk right up to it and not touch it! Wow!

It was mounted a little too high up for me to touch, but someone tall might have been able to, but they strongly discouraged touching.

It was low enough, though, to see it close up, in all the rich detail, with the scuff marks from the atmospheric re-entries, dents and divots, signs of wear, and everything!

A close up of the insulation tiles on the underbelly of Endeavour.

There are approximately 24,200 tiles covering the outside of the orbiter. These black tiles reflected heat from the parts of the space shuttle that got the hottest during re-entry, and provided insulation to keep the shuttle occupants from freezing in orbit. They had to withstand temperatures from 3,000˚ F, hot enough to melt steel, to -250˚ F.

Every single one is a different size and shape, and could cost up to $2,000 to make. They are fragile enough that you could crush one in your hand.

Looking up at the rocket boosters from below.

This was so cool to get up close and personal with an actual vehicle that has brought humans like me into orbit of our planet and back.

Just the facts, ma’am:

  • Endeavour was first launched on May 7, 1992
  • Completed 25 missions
  • Spent 299 days in space
  • Orbited the Earth 4,641 times
  • Traveled 122,883,151 miles

The space shuttle was the world’s first reusable space vehicle, it kept humans in space for 30 years, and it brought diversity to orbit. No longer did astronauts have to be elite test pilots, though many were. The shuttles carried scientists, engineers, doctors, and educators, into space, men and women of many nations, colors, and creeds, making history and encouraging international cooperation.

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