THE NEW YORK TIMES | Space Shuttle Endeavour Rolls Through Los Angeles
By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.
October 26, 2012 — LOS ANGELES — The space shuttle Endeavour rolled out of Los Angeles International Airport around 2 a.m. Friday for what has been named Mission 26: the two-day crawl through urban streets to retirement at the California Science Center 12 miles away.
Actually, crawling might have been faster. Traveling aboard a specially designed 80-wheel transporter and stopping frequently while it maneuvered carefully between streetlights and waiting for overhanging tree branches to be felled, the shuttle took hours to cover just its first couple of miles.
But the slow progress only facilitated the paradelike atmosphere that followed the spaceship. By the time the sun was up Friday morning, thousands had gathered in the parking lot where the Endeavour had pulled in for a rest.
“Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!” said Lealind Vitello, 7, who stood, gaping, outside her elementary school across the street. “It’s parked just in front of the school. I go to that school!” Her mother, Lisa Vitello, though calmer, was no less awe-struck.
“It’s amazing to see it this close, and to know that it’s been in space,” Ms. Vitello said. “To have this piece of history in our little neighborhood is incredible.”
But for all the excitement that the shuttle’s arrival has engendered here — this city, considered a cultural also-ran by many, is now home to one of only four retired NASA space shuttles — actually moving the Endeavour through the dense streets has hardly been as smooth as the space shuttle Enterprise’s float up the Hudson River in New York.
Hundreds of trees were cut down so that the shuttle could make the trip in one piece, angering many residents of South Los Angeles who worried their neighborhood would be left barren. A deal to avoid a lawsuit was reached just a few weeks ago.
Street signs have also been removed; thousands of steel plates have been placed on the road to protect water and sewer pipes underneath from bursting under the shuttle’s weight; and several major power lines along the way were to be temporarily taken down.
But it is the immense public interest that poses one of the biggest challenges for engineers, according to Richard Plump, the president of Plump Engineering, which is assisting with the Endeavour’s move.
“That’s a problem for us,” Mr. Plump said. “We have to make sure the shuttle is safe and the public is safe.”
While the Endeavour stayed parked in the lot near the airport through the early afternoon as engineers prepared for the next phase of its journey, a makeshift festival cropped up around it.
Parents and students sold baked goods and hot dogs to the steadily growing crowd outside the elementary school. Some teenagers skipped school altogether to come sell Endeavour T-shirts, Silly String, cotton candy and plastic horns.
But students were not the only ones playing hooky. Sandra Krauthamer and Mariana Cunningham left work to come see the shuttle in person. (“We talked each other into it,” Ms. Cunningham said.)
Grown men jumped up and down in excitement. And nearly everyone — including some of the police officers charged with keeping the shuttle safe — had a camera perpetually pointed toward the spacecraft, making it impossible to walk anywhere without ruining a photograph.
Amid the festive atmosphere, people reveled in being so very close to the hulking vehicle that had traveled so very far away.
“It’s interesting to see how much wear it’s taken after all its journeys,” Greg Bristol, 69, said. “It’s got burn marks on it. It’s got missing tiles. It’s been through hell.”
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