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In Exposition Park, a long waiting game in the dark for Endeavour

October 13, 2012 | 11:16 pm

Shuttle play
For the hundreds of people lying in wait Saturday for the space shuttle Endeavour’s long-delayed arrival at the California Science Center, news was slow in coming.

A daylong series of smaller delays, stemming from trees bordering the street and a particularly narrow stretch of road, pushed the shuttle’s estimated arrival time later and later. As of 11:30 p.m., Endeavour is still at the intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King boulevards and is not expected to make its final turn into the Science Center area until after 5 a.m. Sunday, project managers say.

As early as 3 p.m., more than two dozen reinforcements from Metro arrived at the Expo/USC stop on the Expo Line light rail in preparation for ridership they said could be larger than 25,000 people -- triple a normal Saturday. Workers in orange-and-yellow neon vests directed train riders into the Rose Garden and toward the Science Center.   

FULL COVERAGE: Endeavour's move through L.A.

The sun began to sink just after 6 p.m., darkening the Exposition Park grounds where families and couples milled on the grassy areas surrounding the Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

As the sun disappeared, but Endeavour did not appear, rumors began to circulate that the shuttle would not appear until 2 a.m. Science Center volunteers took turns standing guard around the tent that will house the space shuttle when it finally arrives.

"Are we going to take turns sleeping until it gets here?" one volunteer jokingly asked a group of his colleagues. "I've got plenty of pillows."

At 7:30 p.m., even after the shuttle had begun to lag behind, police by the Science Center began shuffling crowds off the grass and into the two parking lots designated as viewing areas.

Some bystanders began leaving for food about 8:15 p.m. The merchandise stands, which sold inflatable shuttles, plush toys and stickers that read, “I love my space shuttle,” ran out of Endeavour T-shirts.

Meanwhile, 12-year-old Jaelin Cabrera joined in a chorus of pleas as her siblings and cousins strove to persuade Cabrera’s mother to let them stay.  The children had started a makeshift game of football -– using an inflatable space shuttle -– to pass the time.

"The best part was seeing how big it was from the front and seeing the American flag on the side," said Jaelin, who had already seen Endeavour twice Saturday.  But, she added, seeing it arrive at the Science Center would be even better -- if she could convince Mom.

About 8:30 p.m., two California Highway Patrol officers drove their police cart into the throng of hundreds of eager spectators and delivered the first official news about the shuttle’s delay.

"The shuttle has been delayed," one officer yelled into the megaphone. “It will be here at 1:30 a.m.”

Some who left after the first announced delay vowed to return later in the evening. Cabrera and her family left.

An hour later, about 9:30 p.m., police put up a flashing sign that read, "SHUTTLE ETA 2:30." That led to another exodus.

At 11 p.m., most of the crowd had filtered out. Two children kicked a soccer ball in the parking lot, which was illuminated by floodlights.

Others had stretched blankets between the police barricades and their lawn chairs, forming makeshift tents. They were there for the long haul.


Space shuttle Endeavour rolls on toward its new home

Space shuttle Endeavour 'slipped through the goal post,' official says

'Shuttle Delivery Team' stays busy before and after Endeavour passes

-- Wesley Lowery and Laura J. Nelson in Exposition Park

Photo: Edgar Esparza, 10, left, hikes an inflatable shuttle to Jasmyne Cabrera as they play football in a parking lot near the California Science Center as hundreds gathered to watch the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavor. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times