Los Angeles County, California, isn't like outer space. It doesn't have a lot of room for a space shuttle to move around.
The numbers say it all: Some 265 trees, 202 street lights, seven power poles, six traffic lights, two overhead signs, and two railroad crossing arms have been removed from the 12-mile route that Space Shuttle Endeavour will travel next month to its retirement home at the California Science Center, according to the Los Angeles mayor’s office.
While engineers finished their work making the shuttle safe for public viewing, city workers in California have been busy making the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles suitable for an orbiter to pass through.
“Where possible, trees will be trimmed or transplanted,” explains Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “In those unfortunate cases where trees must be removed, they will be replaced on a two-to-one basis.”
The Science Center will be responsible for replacing the trees and will pick up the tab for all costs associated with moving the orbiter from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to its property.
“Not only (is Endeavour) one of the biggest objects ever transported down city streets,” says California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph, “it’s an irreplaceable national treasure.”
Why not remove the shuttle's wings so it can fit in city streets without trees and utilities along the route having to be removed? The short answer: Endeavour is a national treasure.
“The problem is the outside of the orbiter is covered with our thermal protection systems, blankets and tile that are very fragile,” explains Stephanie Stilson, NASA’s flow director in charge of preparing Endeavour for public view. “To remove the wings, you would have to remove the tile and blankets to get to the aluminum substructure of the vehicle, so basically you would be tearing the vehicle apart to do that. And the amount of work to put it back together would have been enormous and not something that the California Science Center would have the skill or capability to do.”
Endeavour will arrive on the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a specially designed Boeing 747 used to transport the orbiter. It will take 14 hours to offload Endeavour. Stilson’s team members will unbolt the orbiter; then, using two cranes and a sling, they will lift it off the 747. Once the orbiter is suspended in the air, the 747 will be backed out and the orbiter will be lowered onto an overland transporter.
Since NASA no longer needs the orbiter’s overland transporter, it has given it to the Science Center, which will be responsible for getting Endeavour from the airport to the center's property.
“They have slightly modified it, in the sense that when we used it, we just pulled it with a tractor-trailer,” says Stilson. “Because of the precise movement that they will have going through these city streets, they have been able to use what are called KAMAG, motorized transporters.”
The motorized transporters will keep Endeavour level and allow for slow turns as it travels at 1 mph through the city streets. This journey will take place over two days.
On October 12, Endeavour is scheduled to leave the hangar at LAX where it will be housed upon arriving in California. The public is expected to line the streets as the orbiter travels from the airport, over the 405 freeway, and through city streets to its first official stop in front of Inglewood City Hall.
On the morning of October 13 there will be a launch ceremony in front of City Hall. After departing Inglewood, the shuttle's next stop will be in Los Angeles, at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Crenshaw Boulevards, where a celebration event will take place. That evening Endeavour is scheduled to arrive at the Science Center in Exposition Park.
Although it will be the Science Center’s job to transport Endeavour to its property, NASA's Stilson says she will still be nervous until Endeavour arrives.
“Anytime the orbiter is in a situation that we’re not used to, it's been my job for 12 years to be nervous,” says Stilson. “I’ve never been in a situation where you have that many people have access to the vehicle, so it’s going to be a great moment.”
It will be a great moment for many as they witness Endeavour as it takes its final road trip to retirement.