Space Shuttle Endeavour: 'Mission Accomplished'
After a dramatic three-day parade through city streets marked by repeated lengthy delays, the space shuttle Endeavour was greeted by thousands of cheering spectators as it pulled up to its new home at the California Science Center.
The shuttle’s arrival, shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday, was more than 16 hours behind schedule, but the 85-ton orbiter survived its 12-mile journey through the city streets, from Los Angeles International Airport to the museum at Exposition Park, without a scratch.
“Mission 26 – mission accomplished,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters and spectators, standing at Exposition Park with the shuttle rising behind him as a backdrop. The mayor was referencing the shuttle’s 25 space missions and its journey across the city.
PHOTOS: Endeavour rolls through the streets of L.A., Inglewood
The shuttle’s progress was slowed by unexpected maintenance issues and last-minute maneuvers to avoid obstacles like trees and utility poles.
Before the move, 268 trees were cut down in the city to ease the shuttle’s route, and officials temporarily took down 223 traffic signals and raised more than 100 power lines and utility wires. They designed a complex series of zigzag, crablike movements to move the shuttle through Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard without harming pine trees planted in honor of the slain civil rights leader.
Even so, the journey was halted repeatedly so crews could do last-minute trims on tree branches. At one point, workers lowered the shuttle so it could sneak under the branches of a leafy tree.
The trip was also lengthened when what was expected to be a two-hour maintenance stop in Leimert Park on Saturday night stretched on for five hours. As it began rolling again, crews spotted a hydraulic leak from one of the wheeled trailers under the spacecraft, and it ground to halt again.
Despite the delays, the waiting crowds remained buoyant and peaceful. When the Endeavour reached the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Vermont Avenue at about 10:45 a.m., thousands of people poured into the streets chanting “Science Center or bust!”, “Let’s go, let’s go!” and “So close, so close!”
The Los Angeles Police Department reported no arrests among the crowds, although some spectators suffered from heat exhaustion and other injuries. The Los Angeles Fire Department responded to 64 medical calls for service.
Many spectators waited through the night or rose long before dawn for their chance to view a piece of history. Some were still clad in pajamas and bathrobes as they waited for the shuttle to pass through their neighborhoods early in the morning.
Guy Quesada, 42, started his stakeout at the California Science Center at 4 p.m. Saturday, but after hours of fruitless waiting, decided if the shuttle would not come to him, he would go to it. He walked west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on Saturday evening for about an hour until he reached the shuttle, where he had to squeeze around hundreds of cramped bodies to get a good view. By Sunday morning, he had wandered back east to the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 6th Avenue, where he watched the shuttle through a pair of binoculars.
“The actual wing was right over us. It creeped right over us,” Quesada said, smiling as he recounted being so close he could read the numbers on the shuttle’s individual tiles.
Donna Rosen, 61, drove from Santa Clarita at 4 a.m. Sunday to walk alongside the shuttle for a few hours. For her, the mission was partly personal. In the early 1980s she had worked in the governor’s office in Texas and met shuttle astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen.
“I didn’t know it was on my bucket list, but it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Rosen said.
The California Science Center said the total bill for transporting the Endeavour from LAX to its new home could exceed $10 million, a tab that the center is covering with donations. Officials have stressed that none of the costs will be paid with taxpayer dollars.
— Andrew Khouri and Marisa Gerber at Exposition Park