Endeavour nosed out of Los Angeles International Airport before dawn on Friday to begin a two-day, 12-mile (19-km) journey atop a massive wheeled transporter to the California Science Center on the edge of downtown.
The shuttle, which flew from 1992 to 2011, will become a tourist attraction at the center. Endeavour was largely built in southern California and was a workhorse of the U.S. space program, flying 25 missions.
Its first scheduled stop on Friday was a strip mall parking lot where a few hundred spectators marveled at it. The shuttle then resumed its journey through the city.
“I grew up in central Florida and saw many shuttle launches, but this is the first time I’ve ever been up close to one,” said Stephen Caldwell, 38, who was in town on business and spotted the spaceship from his hotel window.
“This really is a big part of American history and to be able to see it here is really special,” he said.
The shuttle is 122 feet long and 78 feet wide and stands 5 stories tall at the tail – which police said makes it the largest object ever to move through Los Angeles. Its combined weight with the transporter is 80 tons.
Organizers say only a few inches separate Endeavour’s wings from structures along the route, and workers have felled 400 trees along curbs to clear a path. The science center will plant more than 1,000 trees to make up for their loss.
Some street lights, traffic signals, power poles and parking meters also are being temporarily removed.
The shuttle will pause again to avoid rush hour traffic on Friday evening before crossing the 405 freeway, the nation’s busiest thoroughfare. On Saturday morning it will appear at a massive rally outside an arena in the nearby city of Inglewood.
OTHER SHUTTLES FIND HOMES
The project to move Endeavour will cost over $10 million, said Shell Amega, a spokeswoman for the science center. Charitable foundations and corporations have donated money and services for the move.
The center beat out a number of other institutions when the U.S. space agency NASA chose it last year as the permanent home for Endeavour, which was taken out of service because of the end of NASA’s shuttle program.
Endeavour has hop-scotched across the country from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the back of a modified Boeing 747. It had been parked at the airport in Los Angeles since arriving on September 21 after a ceremonial piggyback flight around California.
“To see the real thing for me was just really important. I’ve watched every launch, even the one that blew up,” said retired teacher Celestine Palmer, referring to the 1986 Challenger disaster. She wore a T-shirt that read “I Love My Space Shuttle.”
Endeavour was built to replace Challenger, using spare parts from two prior shuttles, according to Ken Phillips, aerospace curator at the science center.
The shuttle will be displayed in a temporary hangar-style metal structure to protect it from the elements. In 2017, a 200-foot- (61-meter)-tall structure will open in which Endeavour will stand vertically, Phillips said.
The other remaining shuttles also have found homes.
The Smithsonian in Washington has Discovery at its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center museum in Virginia. New York City has the prototype shuttle Enterprise at its Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. And the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in Florida has Atlantis, which the center will move to an on-site visitor complex next month.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – (By Dana Feldman; Additional reporting by Jason Redmond; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Eric Walsh and Paul Simao)