Space shuttle Endeavour 'slipped through the goal post,' official says
Against a backdrop of cheering’s crowds, an unlikely gathering of engineers, utility crews and South-Central residents coalesced around Endeavour as it wriggled and scooted along its toughest city block on Saturday.
Southern California Edison planner Michael Fuller said the hilltop corner where Crenshaw Boulevard and Crenshaw Drive merge was so challenging to traverse that “we call it home-run alley.”
Over the previous 24 hours, utility crews had removed three concrete light poles and three high-voltage lines in the area, the last crossing before Southern California Edison’s territory transitions into the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s jurisdiction. As Endeavour inched its way up the hill, Fuller said, “We’ve been planning for this day for six months. But a plan is what you use to help you sleep at night. What counts is what we do on the fly during the big event.”
As Fuller spoke, police tried to keep the crowd from moving onto the sidewalk, and crews dashed ahead to trim eucalyptus and ficus tree limbs and take down light poles in the shuttle’s path. A major hurdle was the width of the street, 60 feet, versus Endeavour's 80-foot wingspan. Climbing the hill meant that Endeavour would need to be raised and lowered from as little as 4 feet off the ground to 6 feet above it in order to clear tree trunks, power poles and apartment balconies crowded with spectators.
The job of ensuring safe passage was literally in the hands of Louie Bellow of Sarens Rigging International, the lead agency in charge of moving the shuttle.
Walking backward just a few yards ahead of Endeavour’s black nose, Bellow was taking radio communication from strategically positioned spotters -- two of whom kept a close eye on the wingtips – then tweaking a joystick on a remote control box strapped at his waist.
With a turn of the knob, the 170,000-pound space craft would dip its nose or shift from side to side, clearing obstacles by, in some cases, only a few inches. At 84th Street, at about 11:50 a.m., the shuttle's trailers’ rear right wheel snagged a curb, and the procession came to a halt.
Three Sarens engineers huddled around the wheel and within minutes, found a solution. The wheel was raised a few feet above the ground and its axle was locked in that position. They signaled Bellow to advance and clear the curb. But Endeavour was stopped again so that engineers could unlock the axle and lower the wheels. As Endeavour rolled forward to the peak of the hill, the crowd cheered and whistled.
Engineers had anticipated that it would take at least 25 minutes for Endeavour to crest the hill at Crenshaw Boulevard and Crenshaw Drive. Instead, it sailed over in roughly 10 minutes. By 12:15 p.m., Endeavour was over the top, and it was downhill for the next seven blocks. Endeavour was right on schedule and had successfully “slipped through the goal post,” Fuller said.
Endeavour rolled back into L.A. city limits shortly after noon Saturday and was crawling down Crenshaw Boulevard to 73rd Street about 2 p.m. Workers had to trim some trees on the way, and the shuttle has had to swoop from side to side a few times amid jammed sidewalks and balconies. The procession was halted once for about 10 minutes because an LAPD vehicle was parked in the route and had to be moved.
Photo: A crew member carefully guides the shuttle Endeavour past a tree along Crenshaw Drive in Inglewood on Saturday. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times