This ET didn’t come from space, but nonetheless, it traveled far on its way home. ET-94, the last surviving flight-qualified space shuttle external tank, had made an almost 5,000-mile trek all by sea from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans by way of Panama to Marina Del Rey.
The final 16.5 miles of its journey would be by land through downtown Los Angeles to its resting place at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center at the California Science Center. The launch of this leg of the trip was as the centerpiece of the 18th Annual Discovery Ball, a coveted event ticket thanks to Chris Sion, Vice President, Food & Event Services for the California Science Center Foundation, and her event team.
Photo: Lonnie Thompson
For the first time in 18 years, the event was taking place completely off-site in a tent in Fisherman’s Village adjacent to where the massive ET-94 was “parked.” Attendees might not have been familiar with the new location, but the guest of honor was hard to miss. Lighting designer Lonnie Thompson and his team at Images by Lighting had used six 50-degree lekos at 750 watts to make the tank stand out against the night sky.
For her inspiration, the homeward trajectory of the ET-94 offered Sion a rich culture of tradition, food and music from which to pick for the 800 attendees, including 12 astronauts. The evening began where the journey did — on the bayou. Cocktails here held on a large wood deck constructed by Town & Country Event Rentals. Here, various structures held lounges outfitted with plush furnishings, richly colored fabrics and even a chandelier. Over the bar, a playful vintage lighted signed asked “Bayou a Drink?”
“Lighting in this area included washes and projected gobo textures that gave off a warm ambience,” lighting designer Lonnie Thompson said, “While other lighting was hidden in truss overhead and then draped with fabric to hide the equipment, we wanted the stringer lights to be front and center for that perfect accent touch of bayou.”
At a given time, the New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band led guests, second-line style with parasols and handkerchiefs, into the 100-by-180-foot tent installed by Town & Country Event Rentals. Amid the bright green and orange of Panama, guests sat down for a Caribbean style meal and entertainment.
As the ET-94 began to the final part of its trip at midnight, guests were able to accompany it along the way for a few blocks. While a centerpiece of the event, this was also a unique challenge for Sion. “We had to find a creative way to allow our guests to leave the party right as the street closures took effect,” she said. “We opted for bringing guests in by Hornblower Cruises & Events. That way guests could park away from the street closures and it also worked with the New Orleans/Bayou themed entrance.”
As they began to walk, it was fitting that now the guests became part of ET’s long and varied journey home.
Photos except where indicated by Nadine Froger Photography
The Event Team
Event Design and Production: California Science Center Foundation, Event Services Department | Tent, subfloor, custom decking and catering rentals: Town & Country Event Rentals | Flowers: CJ Matsumoto & Sons | Lighting Design and Power: Images by Lighting | Custom Décor, specialty dance floor, stage design and lounge furniture: Rrivre Works | Audio/Visual: Delicate Production, Inc. | Catering: Kensington Caterers | Entertainment: Lucent Dossier | Entertainment: Jordan Music Entertainment