Space shuttle Endeavour arrives at Los Angeles museum
The Associated Press
Published Sunday, October 14, 2012 8:45AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 14, 2012 11:45PM EDT
LOS ANGELES -- It was supposed to be a slow but smooth journey to retirement, a parade through city streets for a shuttle that logged millions of miles in space.
But Endeavour's final mission turned out to be a logistical headache that delayed its arrival to its museum resting place by about 17 hours.
After a 12-mile trek through city streets that included thousands of adoring onlookers, flashing cameras and even the filming of a TV commercial, Endeavour arrived at the California Science Center Sunday to a greeting party of city leaders and other dignitaries that had expected it many hours earlier.
The Endeavour was still inching toward a hangar on the grounds of the museum mid-Sunday afternoon.
"It's like Christmas!" said Mark Behn, 55, a member of the museum ground support team who watched the shuttle's snaillike approach from inside the hangar. "We've waited so long and been told so many things about when it would get here. But here it is, and it's a dream come true."
Organizers had planned a slow trip, saying the spacecraft that once orbited at more than 17,000 mph would move at just 2 mph in its final voyage through Inglewood and southern Los Angeles.
But that estimate turned out to be generous, with Endeavour often creeping along at a barely detectable pace when it wasn't at a dead stop due to difficult-to-manoeuvr obstacles like trees and light posts.
Another delay came in the early morning hours Sunday when the shuttle's remote-controlled wheel carrier began leaking oil.
Despite the holdups, the team charged with transporting the shuttle felt a "great sense of accomplishment" when it made it onto the museum grounds, said Jim Hennessy, a spokesman for Sarens, the contract mover.
"It's historic and will be a great memory," he said. "Not too many people will be able to match that, to say 'we moved the space shuttle through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles."'
Such a move is not cheap. The cross-town transport was estimated at $10 million, to be paid for by the science centre and private donations.
Late Friday, crews spent hours transferring the shuttle to a special, lighter towing dolly for its trip over Interstate 405. The dolly was pulled across the Manchester Boulevard bridge by a Toyota Tundra pickup, and the car company filmed the event for a commercial after paying for a permit, turning the entire scene into a movie set complete with special lighting, sound and staging.
Saturday started off promising, with Endeavour 90 minutes ahead of schedule. But accumulated hurdles and hiccups caused it to run hours behind at day's end.
Some 400 trees had been removed along the route, but officials said most of the trees that gave them trouble could not be cut down because they were old or treasured for other reasons, including some planted in honour of Martin Luther King Jr.
The crowd had its problems too. Despite temperatures in the mid-70s, several dozen people were treated for heat-related injuries after a long day in the sun, according to fire officials.
But it was a happy, peaceful crowd, with firefighters having only to respond to a sheared hydrant and a small rubbish fire, and no reports of any arrests.
And despite the late problems the mood for most of the day was festive.
At every turn of Endeavour's stop-and-go commute through urban streets, a constellation of spectators trailed along as the space shuttle ploddingly nosed past stores, schools, churches and front yards as it inched through working-class streets of southern Los Angeles.
Endeavour may have circled the globe nearly 4,700 times, but its roots are grounded in California. Its main engines were fabricated in the San Fernando Valley. The heat tiles were invented in Silicon Valley. Its "fly-by-wire" technology was developed in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey.
It's no longer shiny and sleek like when it first rolled off the assembly line in the Mojave Desert in 1991 to replace the lost Challenger. As it cruised block-by-block, it's hard to miss what 123 million miles in space and two dozen re-entries can do to the exterior.
Stephanie Gibbs, a longtime Inglewood resident, passed the Forum, the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers, many times in her life. But she wasn't prepared for what she saw Saturday.
"There was a space shuttle blocking the street and I said, 'Whoa,"' she said.
Gibbs, who lives off Crenshaw Drive, the narrowest section of the move, would like to see a sign designating it as a shuttle crossing.
"We've been on the map" because of the Lakers, she said. "This kind of highlights it more."