Space Shuttle Endeavour rolls into new home as crowds cheer
LOS ANGELES (CNN) — The space shuttle Endeavour’s journey of 123 million miles ended Sunday afternoon when it rolled into its final resting place at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it will go on public display later this month.
It took more than two days for the shuttle to inch its way across the 12 miles from the Los Angeles International Airport to the science center, navigating around trees and light poles along the narrow path.
Dozens of trees were cut down and traffic signs removed to make room for the Endeavour, but in other cases the shuttle’s self-propelled mobile transporter, capable of turning the shuttle 360 degrees, helped the big white bird to zigzag its way around the obstacles.
Now, after 25 space missions in its 22-year career, Endeavour will be parked in a display pavilion built just for the shuttle.
“Mission 26: Mission accomplished!” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
He praised the more than 1,000 police officers and more than 200 firefighters who helped the shuttle maneuver through the city, and the hundreds of thousands who came out for the spectacle.
Science center President Jeff Rudolph said everyone along the route was positive and encouraging.
“Mr. Mayor, I may get kicked for it, but it was the mother of all parades,” he joked, but Villaraigosa agreed.
The shuttle’s trek to the science center was initially expected to end Saturday night, but obstacles and a mechanical issue slowed it down, said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Rudy Lopez.
As Endeavour neared the science center it had to travel down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, lined with Canary Island pine trees dedicated to the late civil rights leader that officials did not want to cut down.
As if to remind the world it was designed for precision, the shuttle moved so carefully past the trees that at certain points, the distance between the orbiter’s wing and the tree was the width of a credit card, said Shell Amega, spokeswoman for the California Science Center Foundation.
Specialists were part of the convoy to make sure the Endeavour and its transporter platform, which together weigh more than 80 tons, didn’t stress underground water and sewer systems. Crews laid 2,700 steel plates on parts of the route.
Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings said the shuttle’s “seamless” procession allowed everyone to feel like an astronaut.
Gwendolyn Crews, owner of a preschool, told CNN she was bringing her entire preschool to watch the Endeavour’s arrival at the museum.
“I think this is a history-making moment here in Los Angeles, California, and I want to be able to share this with my kids, my grandkids, my great-grandkids … and the children of our school,” Crews said.
Villaraigosa called the shuttle’s trip through the city a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Latasha Covington and her children, 9-year-old Skilyn and 4-year-old Amarie, brought a chair out Saturday to stand on to get a better view.
“I’ve been here 32 years in L.A. and I’ve never seen anything like this, so it’s part of history. I wanted them to see that,” Covington said.
The respect was a fitting tribute to the shuttle, which was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in May 1991.
NASA ended the shuttle program in July 2011. Endeavour’s fellow shuttles Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis are also now museum pieces.
Named for the first ship commanded by British explorer James Cook, Endeavour cost $1.7 billion when it rolled out as a replacement for Challenger, which exploded shortly after its 10th launch.
Over the next 20 years, Endeavour completed some of the highest-profile shuttle missions. It flew a Spacelab mission and numerous International Space Station assembly missions and rendezvoused with Russia’s Mir Space Station.
The science museum has been trumpeting the arrival of the shuttle. The museum’s foundation raised more than $10 million to fund the transportation of the shuttle to the center, Amega said, and is halfway toward its goal of raising $200 million to support the exhibit that opens October 30.
The museum will display the shuttle horizontally in the pavilion while it builds a new addition to its facility, the Air and Space Center. When that center opens in five years, the shuttle will be on display in its vertical launch position.
CNN’s Melissa Gray and Josh Levs in Atlanta and Michael Martinez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.