Endeavour draws festival of admirers as it inches home
CNN — Move over, Oscars. Take a seat, Disney. And forget the televised car chase.
The space shuttle Endeavour is conquering a new frontier -- the entertainment capital of the world -- and it's getting royal parade treatment.
Like a king carried in a chariot, the Endeavour is lumbering through the streets of Los Angeles on its way to retirement in a local museum.
Earthlings are taking their first close-up view of the shuttle's heft and girth as it saunters 12 miles over two days at 2 mph (most humans walk 3 mph), with several rests.
That slow movement has allowed a festival of gawkers to line the streets and express awe as the hulking orbiter barely clears utility poles and trees.
Its five-story-high tail passes the corner glass suites of office buildings, and the vehicle has attracted thousands of admirers during stops outside unlikely destinations such as Bed Bath & Beyond.
The hero's welcome is akin to a Hollywood production: officials ordered 265 trees to be cut down, 67 traffic signals to be dismantled and 48 mast arms to be removed just to accommodate the shuttle, which is 78 feet wide and 122 feet long.
The remaining trees and traffic poles -- as well as buildings -- are now the subject of dramatic video and photography as the shuttle's wings slowly pass within a mere inch of striking them.
"This once-in-a-lifetime event is a cause for celebration," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
The transport is the largest object ever moved through the streets of Los Angeles. A celebration accommodating up to 14,000 spectators is planned Saturday morning at a stop outside the Forum in Inglewood.
Another stop this afternoon in south Los Angeles will feature a performance produced by actor-choreographer Debbie Allen.
And it wouldn't be Los Angeles without a little product placement: A Toyota Tundra half-ton pickup truck pulled the shuttle Friday night over a bridge above Interstate 405. The shuttle and its transporter platform together weigh 170,000 pounds, or more than 80 tons.
In that feat, the highway to Los Angeles International Airport was shut down, preventing any motorists from possibly causing hazards by slowing down to photograph the spectacle, illuminated with stadium-strength spotlights.
Utility workers observed the procession while perched high in cherry pickers. Some power lines had to be temporarily disconnected.
Turning corners was mesmerizing, especially in neighborhoods of single family houses.
On one residential street Saturday morning, the shuttle was on a course to strike a tree, but transportation crews maneuvered the vehicle, with hardly any room to spare, to spare the tree from a chainsaw.
The cutting down of trees has been controversial in some areas, but officials say they will plant two new trees for every felled one.
The spacecraft is expected to arrive late Saturday at the California Science Center, where it will be put on permanent display.
The 12-mile slow trek started early Friday from Los Angeles International Airport.
Officials for months planned the logistics of the move for months and are most concerned about public safety.
Police expected large crowds and heavy traffic, and urged spectators to come early and be prepared to stand long hours.
Endeavour, along with Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis, became a museum piece after NASA ended its 30-year shuttle program in July 2011. All four shuttles have been permanently retired from service.
Named for the first ship commanded by British explorer James Cook, Endeavour rolled out of an assembly plant in Palmdale, California, in 1991 at a cost of $1.7 billion. It was the baby of the shuttle fleet, built as a replacement for Challenger, which had exploded shortly after its 10th launch.
Over the next 20 years, Endeavour flew some of the highest-profile shuttle missions, covering nearly 123 million miles in 25 flights. 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, saying on its website that it is building a new addition to its facility and plans to begin displaying Endeavour on October 30