Quite an Endeavour

August 8, 2012 

To get to Los Angeles, the space shuttle will hitch a ride on a 747, as it did here on an earlier mission.

Get ready, L.A., the space shuttle Endeavour will soon be rolling like a rock star.

On October 12, weather permitting, the decommissioned shuttle will begin a three-day, 12-mile journey from Los Angeles International Airport  to the California Science Center in Exposition Park, the orbiter’s new retirement home.

Officials predict that the 2-m.p.h. urban journey will draw thousands of onlookers, reminiscent of the raucous crowds that turned out for The Rock’s four-county crawl to the Los Angeles Museum of Art, where it became the centerpiece of artist Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass.” The shuttle’s passage will mostly take place along Manchester Avenue, Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard. (See map below.)

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who joined Science Center and NASA officials to announce Endeavour’s itinerary, called the upcoming transport a “once-in-a-lifetime event” for the Los Angeles region, which he noted shares a long and storied history with aeronautics and space exploration. Just this week, scientists at JPL in Pasadena made history with the high-risk touch-down of the rover Curiosity on Mars.

In all, Endeavour completed 25 flights, totaling 4,671 Earth orbits. It was built to replace the Challenger, which exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986, claiming the lives of all 7 astronauts. Endeavour flew its final mission to the International Space Station in May of last year. Among the orbiter’s final crew was Commander Mike Kelly, whose wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded by a gunman last year.

With the 30-year shuttle program now over, Endeavour is one of three shuttles that will go on display around the country, and the first to travel along city streets. The others—Discovery at the Smithsonian outside Washington, D.C. and Atlantis in Florida—have already been delivered.

Endeavor is scheduled to arrive at LAX from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on September 20, riding piggyback on a Boeing 747. That date, however, is dependent on weather conditions, said Stephanie Stilson of NASA, a key player in the transport. “Water drops can become like BB’s” on the fragile surface of the 170,000-pound craft, she said.

After the shuttle is removed from its carrier with a series of cranes and slings, it will be placed on the “Overland Transporter,” a frame built by NASA for “state of the art maneuverability and stability,” according to the agency.

And it’ll need it.

Some stretches of the passage to the Science Center are so narrow that some trees may need to be removed to accommodate the craft’s 78-foot wingspan. In those cases, two trees will be planted for each one that must be uprooted. Villaraigosa said that, like the shuttle itself, its earth-bound journey will be “a marvel of ingenuity and engineering.”

Along the way, on October 13, there’ll be an official ceremony at Inglewood City Hall in the morning and a curbside celebration that evening produced by dancer/choreographer Debbie Allen at the intersection of MLK and Crenshaw boulevards.

At the Science Center, the spacecraft initially will be housed in a cavernous temporary hangar, which is scheduled to be open to the public starting October 30 for the exhibition “Mission 26: The Big Endeavor.” Eventually, the shuttle will be the centerpiece of the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. The $200 million price for the new center and Endeavour’s transport is being underwritten by private donors. 

View Mission 26: The Big Endeavour in a larger map

Posted 8/8/12 

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