The space shuttle Endeavour started its slow trip to the California Science Center this morning, pulling out of a Los Angeles International Airport hangar on a special transporter in the dark of night.
The 122-foot-long retired orbiter hit public streets about 2:30 am. and inched toward Westchester. Its 2-mph journey through Los Angeles and Inglewood isn’t expected to wrap up until 9 p.m. Saturday, when the Endeavour should finally reach the California Science Center in Exposition Park.
In the early hours of the Endeavour’s much-hyped Mission 26, photographers, aerospace enthusiasts and people who were just plain curious about seeing a space shuttle traverse 12 miles of city streets descended upon Westchester in search of viewing locations.
Parts of the journey will be harrowing, as the orbiter’s 78-foot wingspan and five-story height will bring the its fragile tiles within inches of buildings at various points along the way.
Hundreds of trees were removed from the route — angering some residents — along with street lights, traffic signals, power poles and parking meters. And because the 151,205-pound Endeavour was expected to overtax some roads, engineers installed 2,180 steel plates to support the weight of the shuttle plus its transporter.
Manufactured by Rockwell International in Palmdale, the Endeavour was the fifth and final NASA shuttle to be built. It replaced the Challenger, which exploded after a 1986 launch, killing the astronauts on board.
It has journeyed into space 25 times, and after a final launch in May 2011 had logged 122,883,151 miles.