Spaceflight Now

Celebrations will welcome Endeavour to Los Angeles

Posted: August 8, 2012

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The space shuttle Endeavour, retired from service after 25 missions that spanned 123 million miles, will star in a remarkable 12-mile parade through the streets of Los Angeles on October 12-13, traveling from the city's international airport to the California Science Center for display at the children's learning complex.

Officials announced that dates for the glacially-slow trek in a briefing presented today by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and CSC President Jeffrey Rudolph.

"In six weeks, Endeavour is coming home to California. This will mark the first, last and only time that a space shuttle will travel through 12 miles of urban streets. Not only one of the biggest objects ever transported down city streets, it's an irreplaceable national treasure," Rudolph said.

Endeavour's route from LAX to CSC. Credit: California Science Center

"For the last year, engineers, transportation planners, utility experts and urban foresters from both the private sector and the cities of Los Angeles and Inglewood have been hard at work planning the route and logistics of the shuttle's final journey," said Villaraigosa.

Moving power lines, city lights and traffic signals are obvious tasks before the shuttle can traverse down the road, and trees will be trimmed or transplanted to make room for the 78-foot wingspan and vertical tail over 6 stories tall. Other trees that have to be taken down will be replaced on a two-to-one basis, the mayor said.

"We expect the transportation of Endeavour will be celebrated as a truly unique event in our city's history. There will be official celebrations in both Inglewood and LA to mark the shuttle's arrival. We expect visitors from across the state and the country will come to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event," Villaraigosa added.

Endeavour will depart her homeport of the past two decades, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Sept. 17 mounted atop the modified Boeing 747 carrier jet for the cross-country ferryflight. After making stops along the way, at sites not yet unveiled, the shuttle will arrive at Los Angeles International Airport around mid-day on Sept. 20, weather permitting, Rudolph said.

Crews will spend the next couple of days getting the winged spaceship offloaded from the aircraft using a mobile crane contraption and setting the shuttle aboard an overland transporter with self-propelled wheel dollies that offer the precise maneuvering required to guide Endeavour through the urban jungle. The subsequent weeks will make final preparations for the trip and await the exact timing agreed upon to make the move.

Inside the newly constructed Endeavour pavilion at CSC. Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
The science center has constructed a building -- the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, named in honor of the late philanthropist -- that will house Endeavour for display. It opens to the public at the end of October.

"When the space shuttle Endeavour goes on display on Oct. 30, it will be a testament to what humanity can achieve with science and technology. It will also be an impressive testament to the history and heritage of space exploration and aerospace innovation here in the region," Villaraigosa said.

But the pavilion is meant to be only a temporary facility for the shuttle, as museum leaders envision grander plans to exhibit the orbiter attached to an external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters as if she was poised to launch again. Fundraising is underway to finance that concept.

Located in Exposition Park next to the LA Memorial Coliseum, where the University of Southern California plays football and site of the 1984 Summer Olympics, the CSC is between the Natural History Museum and the California African American Museum.

CSC already houses three space capsules -- Mercury 2 that launched the chimpanzee named Ham in 1961, Gemini 11 flown by Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon in 1966 and the U.S. command module from the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project that featured the first handshakes in space between Americans and the Soviets.

On April 12, 2011, CSC was selected in the hotly-contested race to get an orbiter, joining the Smithsonian, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and New York's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum as the winners of Discovery, Atlantis and prototype Enterprise.

The California institution is known for its hands-on educational experience for schoolchildren. Lines of school buses parked outside are a familiar sight, as classes visit the learning center for field trips. Endeavour will serve as an inspirational tool for kids to study science, technology, engineering and math.

With Enterprise in America's largest city, Discovery now preserved in the national archive and Atlantis staying put at KSC, a short drive from the tourist mecca of Orlando, Endeavour finds herself with a future in motivating youngsters at CSC and adding to the museum's educational credentials.

This file photo shows Endeavour riding atop the 747. Credit: NASA
Since Discovery and Enterprise have been delivered to their respective final homes in Northern Virginia and New York City, Endeavour will mark the final space shuttle ferryflight. Since 1977, the flying duos of spaceplanes atop jumbo jets have been an aviation marvel to behold.

NASA completes the disposition of orbiters in November when Atlantis takes a short trip down the road to the massive new building under construction at Kennedy Space Center's privately-run museum for display there, her payload bay doors open to mimic orbiting in space.

Endeavour returned from her final spaceflight on June 1, 2011, touching down at the Florida spaceport after delivering a particle physics experiment to the International Space Station. Over her 19-year flying career, the last of the shuttles to be built, the ship orbited the Earth 4,677 times and accumulated 299 days in space.

The past year has been spent decommissioning the vehicle, removing pyrotechnics, toxics and hazardous materials along with contaminated hardware that could be harmful to the public. Other key components were removed by NASA to save for possible future use.

Endeavour is just days away from completing her stay in the KSC hangar. The ferryflight tailcone was installed earlier this week to cover the replica main engines and provide a smoother airflow during the ride aboard the 747. She will move into storage in the northwest corner of the Vehicle Assembly Building on Aug. 16, sitting there to await final departure from Florida.

Endeavour's ferryflight tail cone was installed earlier this week. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
The ferryflight operations commence Sept. 14 when the shuttle is towed to the apron next to the space center's runway and gets hoisted atop the carrier aircraft.

Specific sites will be targeted for ceremonial flyovers during the west-bound flight of the ferry, as well as refueling stops and places for overnight stays. Details, however, continue to be worked out and officials have not yet unveiled those plans.

CSC is paying the costs of the ferryflight. NASA will oversee activities through removal of Endeavour from the 747, but the museum takes over full responsibility for getting the orbiter to the science center.

"In early September, my team will come in from Kennedy Space Center and start the process of setting up our equipment and preparing for the offload. We've been in cooperation with LAX for the past six months now, discussing what we are going to do and getting help from United (Airlines) in the area where we will be working, as well as all the operational and engineering and security folks at LAX," said Stephanie Stilson, NASA's manager of the orbiters' retirement activities.

The open workspace for the shuttle offload is 400 by 400 feet in the corner of the airport property. Multiple truckloads of equipment will be brought in to erect a complex wind-restraint system to keep orbiter stable without lateral motion during the dual-crane hoisting operations.

This file photo shows Discovery's offloading at Dulles International Airport in April. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
On the arrival day, technicians will get the team organized and go to work loosing the bolts that structurally mated the orbiter to the carrier jet. On the second day, Stilson said, the actual offloading is scheduled to be conducted, as Endeavour is raised off the aircraft, the 747 is backed out and the shuttle placed on the overland transporter.

With very strict weather criteria in place for demating from the 747, dictating winds stay under 10 mph, Stilson said meteorological trends say the overnight or very early morning hours may offer the best conditions to perform that operation.

The transporter was used in the early days of the shuttle program to haul brand new orbiters from their birthplace in Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base for ferry to Florida, she said. Industrial wheel dollies will be added to the overland carrier for the Endeavour procession from LAX.

Endeavour then rolls over to the nearby United Airlines hangar that has been donated for the shuttle's use. In the subsequent days, the aerodynamic tailcone will be detached, the engine nozzles repositioned and other final hands-on touches by shuttle program workers will be completed before the formal handover of the spaceship to CSC.

This artist's concept shows Endeavour aboard the overland transporter. Credit: CSC
Endeavour departs LAX the morning of Oct. 12 with the self-propelled transporter under the control of one person using a remote joystick while walking alongside the vehicle. Additional spotters will be positioned to monitor the shuttle's nose, tail and wingtips.

"There will be a series of moves and stops occur," Rudolph said, as the shuttle navigates past obstacles and utility lines, eventually arriving outside Inglewood City Hall the morning of Oct. 13 for an official welcoming ceremony.

And there will be a celebration at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard produced by renowned actress and choreographer Debbie Allen. Endeavour arrives at CSC the evening of Oct. 13.

"We look forward to all of you and everyone in the city joining us," Rudolph said. "We'll let you know closer to the arrival date the specific areas along the route that we will suggest as best places to view the shuttle, as well as the best places to view the arrival at LAX."

The ship's maiden voyage in May 1992 was a dramatic adventure to rescue the wayward Intelsat 603 telecommunications satellite that required the astronauts to improvise with the first-ever three-man spacewalk to manually grab the spacecraft after attempts using a specially-designed capture bar failed to work.

The ship also conducted the first Hubble Space Telescope servicing in 1993, one of the stellar achievements for the space program that installed corrective optics to fix the observatory's flawed vision.

Endeavour's empty payload bay, as seen Monday as the shuttle nears departure from Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
Other trips in the 1990s deployed and retrieved satellites, mapped the Earth with radar and scanned the cosmos with payloads carried in the orbiter's cargo bay. She also visited the Russian space station Mir once.

Then Endeavour opened the International Space Station era by launching the first American piece of the outpost -- the Unity connecting node -- to begin orbital construction in December 1998. Subsequent flights by Endeavour would take up the station's initial solar array power tower, all three sections of Canada's robotics including the arm, mobile transporter and Dextre hands, the Japanese science facility's "attic" and "back porch" for research, and the Tranquility utility room with the Cupola. Her 12th and final mission to the station finished the U.S. construction efforts by adding the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and a spare parts deck.

Construction of Endeavour started in September 1987 as a replacement vehicle for Challenger. The spaceplane was rolled out of the Palmdale factory in April 1991. She became NASA's fifth and final operational space shuttle with her inaugural launch a year later.