LOS ANGELES – 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.
Having escaped out of Earth’s atmosphere two dozen times, Endeavour’s slow-speed trek Saturday to its retirement center took it through the working class streets of southern Los Angeles.
In an instant, the shuttle crossings became part of history.
Along the 12-mile course, people marveled at the engineering. Some rooted for Endeavour when it appeared it might clip a lightpost. Others wondered whether it could just hurry up to its destination.
Crowds gathered in front of lnglewood High School before sunrise Saturday to watch Endeavour roll by at about 2 mph. Many were bundled up sipping coffee.
This is great for the city as a whole. It makes us proud, said Dean Martinez, a project director for a nonprofit whose family took turns taking pictures of one another as the shuttle slowly inched by.
Added his wife, Marcia, It’s a big deal especially for this neighborhood. It’s important to witness history and for our children to experience it.
Endeavour was scheduled to inch into the California Science Center late Saturday to spend the rest of its years as a museum piece.
Before it did, the shuttle made a late-morning pit stop at the Forum, where it was greeted in the arena’s parking lot by a throng of cheering spectators. After crawling up Crenshaw Boulevard, the shuttle was scheduled to stop for a bit at the intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Endeavour hit the pavement before dawn Friday, trundling out of the Los Angeles International Airport on a remote-controlled 160-wheel carrier past diamond-shaped Shuttle Xing signs. The first day of the move was punctuated by long idle spells as crews reconfigured the carrier and leapfrogged ahead on the route to hoist power lines and dismantle traffic lights and street signs.
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 was hard to miss what 123 million miles in space and two dozen re-entries can do to the exterior.
You can sense the magnitude of where it’s been, said Janet Dion, a family therapist from Manhattan Beach, fixating on the heat tiles that protected the shuttle during the return to Earth.
Shuffling Endeavour through city streets was a laborious undertaking – nearly a year in the making. It could not be taken apart without damaging the delicate tiles. Airlifting it was out of the question. So was driving on freeways, since it was too massive to fit through underpasses.
This is unlike anything we’ve ever moved before, said Jim Hennessy, a spokesman for Sarens, the contract mover.
Once movers settled on the route, the neighborhoods with a front-row seat were transformed. Some 400 trees were cleared with the promise of replanting later. Telephone, cable and power lines were lifted sky-high. Chunks of steel plates were laid down to prevent the streets from buckling and to protect underground utilities.