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Endeavour: Past cheering crowds, shuttle has risky night ahead

The space shuttle Endeavour’s logistically challenging and painful slow crawl through L.A.’s streets played out Friday afternoon to crowds that erupted into cheers of “USA, USA” and merchants and residents who suddenly didn’t mind that their electricity had been snapped off or their foot traffic blocked to make way for the retired space traveler.

But once the sun goes down, one of the last true tests for the veteran space shuttle awaits. Getting across the 405 Freeway.

The Endeavour, which has a 78-foot wingspan and reaches five stories into the sky, will be moved off its transport unit late Friday night and inched over the freeway once it's shifted to a dolly and pulled across the overpass by truck -- the riskiest move in the first leg of getting the shuttle to the California Science Center in Exposition Park.

FULL COVERAGE: Endeavour's final journey to L.A.

Those who planned the move -- which could cost more than $10 million, a sum that will be picked up by the museum and donors -- said they were hoping to speed up its climactic moment Saturday when it arrives at the science center.

Endeavour was slated to make the final turn onto Bill Robertson Drive at 9 p.m. Saturday, but officials are now hoping to get it there before the sun sets.

As the shuttle rolled across South Los Angeles, dwarfing the streetscape, spectators gasped, snapped photos on their cellphones and tried to angle for better views.

PHOTOS: Endeavour rolls through the streets of L.A.

Todd Tassler was one of those who waited on Manchester Boulevard. He watched his first spacecraft splash into the ocean on television in 1966.

He recalled that he was 6, and that his dad  had handed him a coffee to keep him awake. “And don’t tell your mom,” he added.

Tassler, who watched every blast-off or landing he could since then, rented a room at the Day’s Inn on Manchester to make sure he had a front-row seat to what he figured was another slice of history.

TIMELINE: Endeavour's journey through L.A.

"I didn't want to miss this," the San Diego resident said.

Chris Wade started his Friday feeding the sharks and the stingrays in the 188,000-gallon display tank at the California Science Center.

By lunchtime, he’d waded into a different environment -- the thick mob of spectators lining the streets as the retired shuttle Endeavour made its 12-mile roll toward its final resting spot at the center.

Wade, a dive safety officer and senior collector at the museum, is one of the volunteers and staffers from the science center who turned out to ensure the shuttle had a smooth passage as it purred along the street at 2 mph.

“This builds life-long passions and lets them live out their dreams,” Wade said of the children who came to watch the towering shuttle navigate its way through LA. “I’m one of the lucky ones; I get to live out my dream, and hopefully they can too,” he said.

Carlos Barajas, manager of the family-owned Tumby’s Pizza in Inglewood, also had his working day radically altered by Endeavour.

The pizza joint shut down for the day, and he invited friends and family to swing by to watch the enormous spacecraft go by. He said he got a two-week heads up that the electricity would be taken down so the transmission lines could be hoisted to clear the route for the shuttle.

His brother, Victor Barajas, 31, said the shuttle is actually a welcome distraction.

“Everybody is worried about the economy," he said. "This lets people’s mind go somewhere else.”

RELATED:

Too slow? Why didn't they just remove Endeavour's wings?

As shuttle Endeavour heads to the 405, fans stand on tiptoes

California Science Center trying for daylight landing of Endeavour

-- Laura Nelson, Kate Mather, Angel Jennings, Frank Shyong and Adolfo Flores

 
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