LOS ANGELES – It’s a surreal sight residents won’t soon forget: a hulking space shuttle strutting down city streets, pausing every so often to get its bearings as it creeps toward retirement.
Endeavour’s terrestrial journey began before dawn Friday when it departed from Los Angeles International Airport, rolling on a 160-wheeled carrier past diamond-shaped “Shuttle Xing” signs.
Hundreds of camera-toting spectators gaped as the 170,000-pound Endeavour inched by with its tail towering over streetlights and its wings spanning the roadway. Over two days, it will trundle 12 miles at a top speed of 2 mph to its final destination – the California Science Center.
After an initial bumpy ride and a brief delay, the shuttle pulled off a massive feat of parallel parking by backing into a shopping center parking lot for a layover as crowds cheered.
James Nieuwdorp saw Endeavour’s aerial victory lap around California last month and traveled to see it again. He enjoyed how the shuttle brought strangers together. There was “lot of camaraderie – something that’s hard to be seen these days,” he said.
Shuffling a five-story-tall shuttle with a 78-foot wingspan through urban streets was an undertaking that took nearly a year to plan. The cost of transporting it cross-town was estimated at more than $10 million.
Transporting Endeavour required a carrier typically used to haul oil rigs, bridges and heavy equipment. The wheels can spin in any direction, allowing the shuttle to zigzag past obstacles. An operator walks alongside, controlling the movements via joystick. Spotters along the wings are on the lookout for hazards.
Before Endeavour could travel through the streets, some 400 trees were chopped down, cable and telephone lines were hoisted, and steel plates were laid down to protect the streets and underground utilities.
One of the trickiest parts occurs today when Endeavour treks through a residential street with apartment buildings on both sides. With its wings expected to intrude into driveways, residents have been told to stay indoors until the shuttle passes.
The route was selected after ruling out other options. Dismantling the shuttle would have ruined the delicate heat tiles. Helicoptering it not feasible. Neither was crossing on freeways since the shuttle is too big to fit through the underpasses.