Space shuttle Endeavour arrives at Forum ahead of schedule
Despite crawling along at a speed of about 2 mph, the space shuttle Endeavour appears to be making good time on its journey home to the California Science Center.
The massive space vehicle pulled up to the Fourm in Inglewood around 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and was greeted by thousands gathered there to see it. It arrived more than an hour ahead of schedule, but Southern California Edison crew members said it will remain at the Fourm until 9:30 a.m. as planned. The crews cleared some transmission lines early and movers decided to proceed.
A celebration at the Forum, which includes music and some public speakers, was set to begin about 9 a.m.
Officials are considering whether they can get the shuttle to the California Science Center before sunset, which occurs at 6:20 p.m. Saturday.
Shortly after 7 a.m., the shuttle rolled west of the Forum on Manchester Boulevard, as thousands gathered there cheered.
Sixteen-year-old Christina Hale jumped up and down, let out an excited scream and then grabbed her friend by the left arm to pull her toward the front of the crowd.
"Is that it? Is that it?" Hale said, pointing east down Manchester Boulevard.
Her friend shook her head. It was too early, she thought.
As the others in the crowd started to rumble, though, the girls realized Endevour was almost there.
As the shuttle crawled west on Manchester, crisp notes of "2001: A Space Odyssey" reverberated off people's chest and the asphalt. Some people smiled, others cheered, some stood silently.
Eric Castañeda heaved his 8-year-old son, also named Eric, onto his shoulders so he could get a better view.
"I see it and it's bigger than I ever imagined," the boy said, as he peered back and forth between Endeavour and the Lego shuttle he grasped in his left hand.
In his right hand: Flat Stanley, a man-shaped cut-out, crayon-colored piece of paper. As part of a school project, Eric has to show Flat Stanley cool things and take pictures together.
As Eric posed for a picture, his 5-year-old sister Emily bopped her head to the beat of "Men in Black."
Her dad smiled at her and then at his son.
"I've wanted to see one of these since I was your age," he said. "I'm going on two hours of sleep, but it was worth it."
As the shuttle passed in front of M&M Soul Food restaurant, owner Beverly Brinson was setting up chairs for customers.
"It's like a parade," Brinson said after the shuttle passed. A cadre of trucks was parked in front of her diner.
"Only in L.A.!" she shouted, dressed in her all-red uniform.
Brinson said she opened at 5 a.m. -- three hours early to catch business from the shuttle's viewers.
And for those that didn't enjoy breakfast at M&M, they could still sit in Brinson's makeshift viewing area.
They just had to pay $10.
Because the shuttle needs every millimeter of space for clearance, Los Angeles police said they planned to close most sidewalks along Saturday's route. However, officials said this week that some may be opened along the way for public viewing.
After crawling up Crenshaw Boulevard, the shuttle will reach Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard around 2 p.m. A celebration is planned by choreographer Debbie Allen.
Public safety officials have said the area will accommodate a few thousand people at most, so those interested in seeing Endeavour should arrive early.
The final tricky move will be along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Pines planted in honor of the slain civil rights leader were deemed too significant to cut down, as many were along the transport route, and because the trees dot both sides of the roadway, the shuttle will pivot -- crab-like -- to avoid any mishaps.
"Don't think of the shuttle going nose-first down every street," said LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman. "That shuttle has the ability to zigzag and maneuver, and that's what you're going to see along that route. There may be places where the shuttle is going sideways at an angle."
The final chance to see the shuttle will be along Bill Robertson Lane as it approaches the science center's Samuel Oschin display pavilion in Exposition Park about 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Police said four parking lots between Bill Robertson and Vermont Avenue will be available to the public.
However, officials were hoping that the shuttle could arrive ahead of schedule, before sunset, which occurs at 6:20 p.m.
--Angel Jennings, Andrew Khouri and Times Staff
Photo: Shuttle Endeavour at Forum Credit: Andrew Khouri