Space shuttle Endeavour rolls on toward its new home
The space shuttle Endeavour rolled across its final frontier Saturday, successfully crossing a bridge over the 405 Freeway and pivoting through tight spots en route to its new home at the California Science Center in Exposition Park.
Thousands of people thronged the streets to watch the shuttle crawl through the streets of Inglewood and then Los Angeles.
The massive space vehicle made a two-hour stop at the Forum in Inglewood, arriving early to the delight of crowds and politicians who crowed about Southern California landing what they called a national treasure.
“All of these states tried to get the Endeavour and they lost,” state Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) told those who assembled on a chilly, sparkling morning. “One of the reasons they lost is because Endeavor was born here,” referring to the Palmdale facility that built the shuttles. “This morning,” Wright said, “we have the opportunity to say, ‘Welcome home.’”
The five-story-tall shuttle, which survived 123 million miles of space travel, faced some of its trickiest maneuvers in the streets of Inglewood.
At one tense standoff, it was the shuttle versus a tree. For more than 20 minutes crews in orange-and-yellow vests swarmed the idled shuttle with its 78-foot wingspan on Crenshaw Drive and 84th Place. About a foot of its left wing was on the wrong side of a Chinese elm.
Would it fall like nearly 400 other trees cleared along the route?
Precious minutes ticked by. Then the four computerized transport wheels eased into gear, the shuttle shimmied one way, then the other. Its left wing squeezed by the leafy obstruction with fewer than eight inches to spare.
The crowd roared and burst into applause. Hundreds lined the route, jockeying for position to see better, as police herded them back behind yellow tape.
“It was awesome,” said Shifon Berumen, a Whittier schoolteacher who came to witness the spectacle. “As Americans, we can accomplish great things like build a shuttle but also sensitive enough to care about a tree.”
Once regaining full speed -– all of 2 mph -– the wings glided over sidewalks and lawns. Police bellowed at the spectators through bullhorns: “Back all the way up, or you're going to get hit by the wingtip.”
Moving the Endeavour has been an epic undertaking of logistics and preparations.
At one intersection, crews deposited 400 tons of base material made up of broken asphalt, concrete and green material, to keep the shuttle level with the traffic islands. Crews fanned out in advance to remove traffic lights, de-energize power lines and make other arrangements.
"They've been out here all week," said Ron Liston, 42, watching the shuttle pass by from the second-story balcony of his apartment. His nieces and nephews joined him. Initially, he was annoyed by the power outage, but found it “awe-inspiring” to wake up to the historic passage.
Others embraced the unusual Saturday morning sight. “Anyone can go to a museum and see a spacecraft like this,” said Shavonne Moss, 33, kicking back on a lawn chair in the remaining shade of a tree that had been trimmed. “But a spaceship on Crenshaw Boulveard is unheard of. It proves that anything is possible, even here.”
More fanfare and tricky maneuvers remain ahead. The shuttle will bask in another celebration, planned by choreographer Debbie Allen, when it reaches Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, a mall at the corner of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Saturday afternoon.
The final tricky move will be threading the spaceship through pine trees planted along King. The pines, planted in honor of the slain civil rights leader, were deemed too significant to cut down. The trees line both sides of the roadway, so the shuttle will have to pivot, like a walking crab, to avoid mishap.
“There may be places where the shuttle is going sideways at an angle,” said Lt. Andy Neiman of the Los Angeles Police Deparmtent. "That shuttle has the ability to zigzag and maneuver, and that's what you're going to see.”
Such tricky handling can take extra time. Officials are eager to ease the shuttle into its final place at the Samuel Oschin Pavilion in Exposition Park next to the USC campus before sunset at 6:20 p.m.
-- Kate Mather, Adolfo Flores, Marisa Geber, Andrew Khouri and Ken Weiss
Photo: Joining fellow family members on a rooftop, Brian Pratt takes a photo of his son, Luke Pratt, 6, with the space shuttle Endeavour traveling along Crenshaw Drive on Saturday. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times