After slowly surmounting a key obstacle, the space shuttle Endeavour maintained a heading on Saturday through the streets of Los Angeles toward its retirement home in a museum.
Endeavour’s final mission began when it departed from the Los Angeles International Airport before dawn on Friday, rolling on a 160-wheeled carrier past diamond-shaped “Shuttle Xing” signs.
Around midnight, it travelled over a bridge across Interstate 405, an especially tricky part of the complicated journey because of the size of the space craft and width of the bridge. On Friday evening, it stopped as crews spent hours transferring the shuttle to a special, lighter towing dolly.
Crews preparing for the crossing had to take down power lines, leaving about 400 residents of surrounding Inglewood without power for what was expected to be several hours.
Early on Saturday, the shuttle rolled past Inglewood City Hall toward a scheduled stop at the Forum, where it was greeted in the arena’s parking lot by a throng of cheering spectators ahead of its trip further east on Manchester Boulevard.
Another tricky part will come later in the day when Endeavour treks through a narrow 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.
Crowds gathered in front of lnglewood High School before sunrise on Saturday to see Endeavour roll by. Many were bundled up sipping coffee.
On Friday, hundreds of camera-toting spectators, some with pajama-clad children in tow, gaped as the 77,000 kg Endeavour inched by with its tail towering over streetlights and its wings spanning the roadway.
Over two days, it would have trundled 19 km at a top speed of 3.2 kmph to its final destination, the California Science Center, where it will be the centrepiece of a new exhibit. It’s expected to reach the museum sometime on Saturday evening.
After an initial bumpy ride and a brief delay, the shuttle pulled off a massive feat of parallel parking by backing into a shopping centre parking lot for a layover as crowds cheered on.
The baby of the shuttle fleet, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986, killing seven astronauts. It thundered off the launch pad 25 times, orbited Earth nearly 4,700 times and racked up 198 million kilometres.
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.
The route was selected after ruling out other options. Dismantling the shuttle would have ruined the delicate heat tiles. Helicoptering it to its destination was not feasible. Neither was crossing on freeways since the shuttle is too big to fit through the underpasses. The cost of transporting it cross-town was estimated at over $10 million.