October 13, 2012
LOS ANGELES — At its prime, the space shuttle Endeavour cruised around the Earth at 17,500 mph, faster than a speeding bullet.
In retirement, it's crawling along at a sluggish 2 mph, a pace that rush-hour commuters can sympathize with.
Endeavour's 12-mile road trip kicked off shortly before midnight Thursday as it moved from its Los Angeles International Airport hangar en route to the California Science Center, its ultimate destination, said Benjamin Scheier of the center.
The space craft was escorted by a security entourage as it moved across the tarmac but was briefly delayed after a minor problem developed with its trailer, Los Angeles police Sgt. Rudy Lopez said. The problem was quickly repaired and Scheier said it reached the street shortly after 2 a.m. PDT Friday.
The immense black-and-white spacecraft, its sides weathered by millions of miles in space and two dozen re-entries, crawled slowly through the streets of the Westchester neighborhood on a 160-wheeled carrier.
Hundreds of people waiting in the predawn darkness snapped photos and gaped as it inched by with its tail towering over streetlights and its wings spanning the roadway.
"I'm speechless. It's like a once-in-a-lifetime chance," one man told KABC-TV.
"I grew up with the space program," another said. "I remember when Columbia blew up when I was a child in school and I was fortunate last summer to go to the last shuttle launch in Florida, so it's really exciting for me to be here and watch it go through the streets."
The shuttle made stop-and-go progress, with some halts to check its balance on its 160-wheeled carrier and to prune trees in its path as it rolled past strip malls, storefronts, apartment buildings and front lawns.
"It's still a work in progress," Scheier said.
The shuttle was to travel three miles and then stop in a private lot for a nine-hour layover as crews deal with power lines father ahead on the route.
Ushering a shuttle through an urban core is a logistical challenge that took almost a year to plan. Guarded by a security detail reminiscent of a presidential visit, police enforced rolling street and sidewalk closures as early as Thursday night in some locations and discouraged spectators from swarming side streets.
The behemoth transport has caused headaches for shopkeepers along the route who counted on cheering crowds jamming the curbs to boost business.
In the days leading up to Endeavour's move, the owners of Randy's Donuts sold shuttle-shaped pastries emblazoned with the NASA logo and even hung a shuttle replica inside the giant doughnut hole sign visible from the busy Interstate 405.
Co-owner Larry Weintraub planned to watch the shuttle creep by the roadside sign, which has been featured in several movies. But the store, which serves up sweets 24-7, will be closed Friday night.
"I'm still excited, but I'm disappointed that people aren't going to be able to stand in the streets and shout ‘Yay,' " he said.
Saturday is typically the busiest day for James Fugate, who co-owns Eso Won Books in South Los Angeles. But with Endeavour expected to shuffle through, Fugate braced for a ho-hum day in sales.
"We don't close because we're slow. That's when you pull out a book to read," he said.
The baby of the shuttle fleet, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986, killing seven astronauts.