Endeavour begins trek to California Science Center

City News Service | 10/11/2012, 5 p.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The space shuttle Endeavour, which has flown nearly 123 million miles, was on what should be its final journey today--a laboriously slow 12-mile trek from Los Angeles International Airport to its retirement home at the California Science Center in Exposition Park.

It began rolling out of a hangar at the airport around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, said Mary Grady of Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX.

After a minor mechanical glitch affecting the transport vehicle delayed its scheduled 2 a.m. departure, Endeavour, sitting atop a high-tech flatbed carrier, left the airport at 2:15 a.m. today, a Science Center volunteer said.

The 2-mile per hour trip is being referred to by organizers as "Mission 26," since the orbiter completed 25 space missions. The shuttle's tiles are waterproof, so rain along the route will not slow the mission down, said Ken Phillips, the Science Center's curator for aerospace science.

By 5:45 a.m., Endeavour reached its first scheduled stop, a parking lot at the intersection of La Tijera Boulevard and Sepulveda Eastway, where it will remain until 1:30 p.m.

Standing near Endeavour at an 8 a.m. news conference, Science Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rudolph welcomed those gathered nearby.

"It's been an exciting night, and we're off to a great start," Rudolph said. "Everything is really going according to plan, exactly as we hoped for."

Rudolph thanked everyone involved in the multi-agency effort to move the shuttle.

"We've still got a long ways to go, but this is an incredibly complex move--lots of people working on it--and we really appreciate it," Rudolph said.

NASA announced in April 2011 that Endeavour would be permanently housed at the Science Center--returning to the region where it came into being. It was built in Palmdale starting in 1987 to replace Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986.

Endeavour made its first flight May 7, 1992, and completed its final space mission on June 1, 2011, having flown 122,883,151 miles in 4,671 orbits around the Earth.

Organizers say that working out the route from LAX to the Science Center required a degree of planning worthy of a space mission, and though this journey is taking place on terra firma, parts of it will be harrowing, with the orbiter's 78-foot wingspan and five-story height taking its fragile tiles to within inches of buildings at various points along the way.

Before the shuttle could be transported through city streets, crews removed 268 trees and trimmed another 265 within Los Angeles city limits. The city will plant at least 702 trees to make up for the lost ones, officials said. Additionally, 128 trees were removed in Inglewood and are to be replaced by twice that number.

Plans also called for crews from L.A.'s Street Lighting, Transportation and Water and Power departments to temporarily remove 222 street lights, 63 traffic signals, 35 power poles, 11 parking meters and two overhead signs.

Endeavour will do the bulk of its travel along Manchester, Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards. Its weight--151,205 pounds--is too much for the roads on some parts of the route, so engineers installed 2,180 steel plates to support the weight of the shuttle plus its transporter.