Valdosta Daily Times

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October 14, 2012

Shuttle inches toward retirement home at museum

LOS ANGELES — At every turn of Endeavour’s stop-and-go commute through urban streets, a constellation of spectators trailed along as the space shuttle ploddingly nosed past stores, schools, churches and front yards.

Having escaped out of Earth’s atmosphere two dozen times, Endeavour’s slow-speed trek Saturday to its retirement center took it through the working-class streets of southern Los Angeles.

In an instant, the shuttle crossings became part of history.

Along the 12-mile course, thousands marveled at the engineering. Some rooted for Endeavour when it appeared it might clip a light post. Others wondered if it could just hurry up to its destination.

Early birds gathered in front of lnglewood High School before sunrise to watch Endeavour roll by at a pokey 2 mph. Dean Martinez, who lives in Los Angeles but works in Inglewood, could not miss the moment.

“This is great for the city as a whole. It makes us proud,” said Martinez, a project director for a nonprofit.

Endeavour had been scheduled to inch into the California Science Center on Saturday evening to spend the rest of its years as a museum piece. But as the night wore on, even inching became a challenge, and the journey looked likely to spill into Sunday.

The second day of the move started off promising, with Endeavour 1 1/2 hours ahead of schedule. But hurdles and hiccups caused it to run some five hours behind. There was no major single reason for the slowdown — it was the accumulation of small problems involving maneuvering and maintenance.  

They included a small tree on the narrowest section of the move that planners hadn’t thought needed removal but ended up bringing the procession to a stop. As crews tried to find ways to tilt and twist the shuttle past the tree, they came close to deciding to cut it down before Endeavor squeezed through. Another slip-up came when it appeared the shuttle was going to hit a light post, and crews again began plans to remove it as the ship slid through.

The crowd had its problems too. Despite temperatures in the mid-70s, more than two dozen people were treated for heat-related injuries after a long day in the sun, according to fire officials.

But incredibly, given the size of the crowd, police reported no arrests.

Unlike other high-profile events like the Academy Awards or the Rose Parade, the procession was centered in some of the area’s most economically downtrodden and troubled places. The shuttle passed several gritty areas and shuttered businesses, and rolled down many streets that were aflame two decades earlier during the 1992 riots brought on by the Rodney King beating.  

“Having a shuttle come through this area of high poverty, it can only be a good thing” for the community,” said Damian Pipkins, a volunteer at Eso Won Books.

Endeavour hit the pavement before dawn Friday, trundling out of the Los Angeles International Airport on a remote-controlled 160-wheel carrier past diamond-shaped “Shuttle Xing” signs. When it reached a freeway overpass that night, it was towed by a truck.

The shuttle made a late-morning pit stop Saturday at the Forum — former home of the Los Angeles Lakers — where it was greeted in the arena’s parking lot by a throng of cheering spectators. It was late to its second public celebration that included a dance performance choreographed by Debbie Allen.

For most of the way, Endeavour straddled wide boulevards — Manchester, Crenshaw, Martin Luther King Jr. The one exception was when the shuttle ambled through a slightly curved residential street lined with apartment buildings on both sides — a spot that caused some delay.

As it wound through South Los Angeles, residents welcomed its presence. Before the move, some lamented over the loss of shade as trees were chopped down to provide clearance.

Others thought it was a decent trade.

“If you have to go through a little bit of pain to have something nice for the community, then it’s worth it,” said Pamela Tucker, who lives a block away from Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles.

When Endeavour rolls down King Boulevard, special attention will be paid to the pine trees planted in honor of the slain civil rights leader.

Endeavour may have circled the globe nearly 4,700 times, but its roots are grounded in California. Its main engines were fabricated in the San Fernando Valley. The heat tiles were invented in Silicon Valley. Its “fly-by-wire” technology was developed in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey.

It’s no longer shiny and sleek, like when it first rolled off the assembly line in the Mojave Desert in 1991 to replace the lost Challenger. As it cruised block-by-block, it’s hard to miss what 123 million miles in space and two dozen re-entries can do to the exterior.

Shuffling Endeavour through city streets was a laborious undertaking — nearly a year in the making. It could not be taken apart without damaging the delicate tiles. Airlifting it was out of the question. So was driving on freeways since it was too massive to fit through underpasses.

There were consequences. Several hundred Inglewood residents suffered hours-long outages when power lines were temporarily snipped. Some businesses lost customers because of street and sidewalk closures.

Such a move is not cheap. The cross-town transport was estimated at $10 million, to be paid for by the science center and private donations.

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