This weekend marked the one year anniversary of when Space Shuttle Endeavour was hauled through 12 miles of Los Angeles’ busiest boulevards and parked at the California Science Center. It was quite a sight watching a hulking piece of metal and history crawl down King Boulevard, passed fast food joints and apartment buildings. There was so much devotion for Endeavour from the crowds, many of whom followed the shuttle to its final resting place. Here’s my story, (Daily News, Oct. 13, 2012):
It blasted into space 25 times and zipped around the Earth at speeds of 17,500 mph.
But the space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission was a slow, delicate, 2 mph, 12-mile voyage through the streets of Los Angeles that took nearly three days to complete.
Its last mission officially ended Sunday with applause, cheers and exhausted tears, after it was guided into its final resting place at the California Science Center. The shuttle arrived about noon, 15 hours later than planned because of blocking trees and a broken transporter.
“Today is a day of celebration as L.A. welcomes home the space shuttle Endeavour,” a beaming Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said as he stood in front of the famous orbiter in Exposition Park.
“This is a piece of American history and a symbol of American spirit.”
Many spectators seemed to agree with the mayor. Thousands lined the streets of Los Angeles day and night since Friday to catch a glimpse of the massive Endeavour, cheering as it crept by businesses and homes.
Some, such as Ken Phillips, aerospace curator at the California Science Center, had waited for what seemed like a lifetime for the shuttle to finally rest in Los Angeles. Phillips was the one who wrote a proposal a few years ago to NASA to convince the agency that the museum was the perfect choice for the shuttle’s last resting place.
“I wanted this 20 years ago,” Phillips said as he watched the nose of the shuttle make a last right turn into the center. “It so beat all the odds to be here. There are so many things that had to go right most of the time for it to be here. It’s just incredible.”
It took more than a year of planning and an estimated cost of $10 million to make Endeavour’s final journey through Los Angeles possible, museum officials said.
With a 78-foot wingspan, Endeavour stands 57 feet tall on the runway and 122 feet in length.
The massive logistical adjustments included chopping down some 400 trees, hoisting cable and telephone lines and laying down steel plates to protect streets and underground utilities.
Endeavour itself was hoisted atop a carrier typically used to haul oil rigs, bridges and heavy equipment and pulled by a Toyota Tundra. An operator walked alongside, controlling the movements with a joystick as several spotters along the wings looked out for hazards.
Yet despite all the planning, Endeavour’s last journey, dubbed Mission 26, became an exercise in patience as its travel was delayed several times throughout Saturday and part of Sunday morning because of maneuvering challenges.
In some spots it cleared trees by the width of a credit card, said California Science Center spokesman William Harris.
“We knew there would be shifts in the roadways and there were so many variables,” he said. “But everything and everyone came together, and now, it’s surreal that it’s here.”
Endeavour was the fifth and final NASA shuttle to be built. It blasted into space 25 times, orbited the earth 4,700 times, and after a final launch in May 2011, logged 122,883,151 miles.
The shuttle’s final journey started at Los Angeles International Airport early Friday morning and crossed the Manchester Boulevard bridge over the San Diego (405) Freeway around midnight Friday. By early Sunday morning, it had reached the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and then continued to crawl at 2 mph down Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
“This was the mother of all parades,” said Jeffrey Rudolph, president of the California Science Center.
“What a great three days,” he said. “Everyone was fantastic and patient.”
No arrests were reported throughout the move, and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck praised Los Angeles residents for all their consideration.
“I’ve been working crowd control for 30 years and this was the most special crowd,” Beck said. “Thank you L.A.”
Many of those who had thought Endeavour would pull into the Science Center Saturday evening stayed at their spot into Sunday morning. Bleary eyed but excited, Gregoria Estrada and her son Sebastian Santos, 16, of Lynwood, wore lime green T-shirts emblazoned with “I love my space shuttle” and camped in a nearby parking lot to get up close and personal with the shuttle.
“It’s something unusual, historic,” Estrada said. “I feel emotional about it.”
“It’s not something you see everyday,” added Santos. “I love the space shuttle.”
Pavel Gonzalez, 29, of Los Angeles’ Koreatown, said he had waited for hours last month at the Griffith Park Observatory to watch the shuttle flyover on a carrier on its way to LAX.
“I love astronomy,” Gonzalez said. “I really love everything that has to do with space. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
His friend Vartuhi Temelsiz, 23, of Hollywood, said she hoped Endeavour’s story would endure and inspire Americans to relaunch the space program.
“Science is an eye opener,” she said.
After a long delay on King Boulevard the shuttle seemed to speed past apartment buildings and fast food restaurants as thousands of people, many with children, followed, filling in the closed down streets behind the shuttle and cheering the spacecraft on.
Troy Robinson, 46, who lives on King Boulevard, said he hardly slept, waiting for Endeavour to travel down past his home. The shuttle may have been late, Robinson said, but was worth the wait.
“We endeavored to see Endeavour,” he said. “It was wonderful.”
The Science Center will put the Endeavour on display in a pavilion Oct. 30 until a new addition called the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is built.