After a 19 year career, travelling 123 million miles, and circling the Earth more than 4,600 times, the space shuttle Endeavour is now settling in for retirement at the California Science Center (CSC). However, just getting to the CSC was a mission in itself.
Preparations to transport the shuttle from Florida to California started last year when NASA signed over ownership of the orbiter to the science center. Then technicians began transforming Endeavor from a shuttle fit for space into a safe museum display, which included removing hazardous materials and taking off the propulsion system for possible reuse on other spacecraft.
To make the trek across the country, the orbiter flew piggyback on top of a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet until landing in a United Airlines hanger at LAX. After sitting for three weeks, the most challenging part of the journey began — traversing the streets of Los Angeles and Inglewood.
The Endeavor hitched a ride on top of a NASA overland transporter which moved it ever so carefully along the three-day, 12-mile road trip. Scores of onlookers watched as the shuttle straddled medians and narrowly dodged power lines, telephone poles, buildings, and other structures. Such obstacles along with the need to stop for maintenance of the transporters delayed the Shuttle’s CSC arrival (and accompanying parade) by a day.
Besides the crowds that lined the streets, several formal celebrations were held to mark the event, which included a ceremony at The Forum sports arena in Inglewood and a dance tribute at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Crenshaw boulevards. However, because of the Endeavour’s snail pace, the performance began well before the shuttle passed the intersection. Still, spectators didn’t seem to mind as the setbacks as they exuberantly welcomed the famed orbiter into the CSC’s Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Display Pavilion.
“I walked most of the route, and I can tell you that over a million people were so positive, so encouraging,” said science center president Jeffrey Rudolph. “All we heard was ‘Wow! Thank you!’ and young people saying, ‘I want to be an astronaut.”
“What a phenomenal three days,” he added. “I may need some sleep, but it was a great three days.”
With its final mission complete, the science center plans to open the Endeavour display to the public on Oct. 30th.