Space shuttle Endeavour heads to new home

12 October 2012
By Rachael Fergusson
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Endeavour atop the Over Land Transporter after exiting Los Angeles International Airport.

Endeavour atop the Over Land Transporter after exiting Los Angeles International Airport.

The retired space shuttle Endeavour set off for its new home on Friday to the California Science Center.

Endeavour left Los Angeles International Airport atop a massive wheeled transporter before dawn and will take two days on the road before it reaches its destination.

"It's a national treasure; this is something that we all paid for with our taxes," Ken Phillips, aerospace curator at the science centre, said before the shuttle's journey began.

Endeavour flew from 1992 to 2011 and will go on public display this month. Phillips described the shuttle, which was largely built in southern California, as a workhorse for the US space program. The shuttle represented "the very best, I think, of what people can do when they decide to cooperate and do good things," he said.

The science centre beat out a number of other institutions when Nasa chose it as the permanent home for the 80-ton winged spaceship. It was taken out of service because of the end of the Nasa shuttle program that began with a launch in 1981.

Endeavour hop-scotched across the country from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the back of a modified Boeing 747. It was parked at the airport after arriving on 21 September following a ceremonial piggyback flight around California during which spectators on the ground cheered and wept.

Workers have felled 400 curbside trees along Endeavour’s 12-mile route to clear its way. The science centre will plant more than 1,000 trees to make up for their removal.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said that when Endeavour flew over the city last month, she and her colleagues ran up to the roof of City Hall where they watched it with tears in their eyes. Perry said she remained apprehensive about the road journey, which will see Endeavour pass through intersections with as little as six inches of clearance. She also anticipates large crowds along the way.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the space shuttle come down your neighbourhood street," Perry said. "How often does that happen?"

Los Angeles police were closing streets along the planned route for what organisers are calling 'Mission 26' in reference to the shuttle's 25 previous missions into space.

Soon after rolling out of the airport, the shuttle will pass through the nearby city of Inglewood, where on Saturday morning it will be the star in a massive rally outside an arena where the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team once played. Later that day, it will stop at a shopping mall in south Los Angeles where officials will speak and a dance academy started by 'Fame' actress Debbie Allen will perform.

Once it arrives at the science centre, it will be displayed in a temporary, hangar-style metal structure to protect it from the elements. In 2017, a special pavilion will open in which Endeavour will stand vertically, Phillips said.

The other remaining spaceships from the shuttle program have also found homes. The Smithsonian in Washington has Discovery at its Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center museum in Virginia; New York City has the prototype shuttle Enterprise at its Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in Florida has Atlantis, which the centre will move to an on-site visitor complex next month.

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