Spaceflight Now

California welcomes shuttle Endeavour back to birth state

Posted: September 21, 2012

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Completing the final leg of the final space shuttle ferryflight, the decommissioned Endeavour toured iconic landmarks around California before her 747 carrier jet made a tire-smoking touchdown at the Los Angeles International Airport on Friday.

Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now
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Riding atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft on the coast-to-coast trek from Kennedy Space Center, Endeavour arrived in LA at 12:51 p.m. to take up residence in her new city.

The retired ship that flew in space 25 times, accumulating 122,883,151 miles traveled on 4,677 orbits of the planet and 299 days aloft, was given to the California Science Center by NASA for display at the learning facility for schoolchildren.

"There were many, many, many people and many communities that would have given anything to have Endeavour in their home, so California as a state is very fortunate, the LA area is very fortunate. We really hope they appreciate it and I know they will because California Science Center is doing a good job conveying the message of Endeavour and what Endeavour has done," said Stephanie Stilson, NASA's manager in charge of shuttle retirement activities.

Endeavour was the final orbiter built, as a replacement for Challenger, and sailed her maiden voyage in May 1992 to rescue a wayward communications satellite. She would launch the first and final U.S. elements of the International Space Station in 1998 and 2011, respectively.

"It is the youngest of our fleet, it is our baby, so we are letting go of our baby and turning her over to California," Stilson said.

Equipment pre-deployed to LAX including a dual-crane system will be used starting early Saturday -- when winds will be calm and the airport is quiet -- to pluck Endeavour off of the 747 and place the shuttle onto an overland transporter that will haul the ship along a 12-mile route to the California Science Center on Oct. 12 and 13.

The contraption was used in the past for shuttle ferryflights, notably in April to offload Discovery at Dulles International Airport for delivery to the Smithsonian and to load Enterprise for its transport to New York City and subsequent demating operations there. Before that, the system had not been employed since Enterprise's original handover at Dulles in 1985.

A complex design of cable reels and wind restraints keep the structure stable while maneuvering the space shuttles. Nearly 200 holes had to be drilled into the surface to secure the contraption in place before it can grab ahold of the orbiter.

Illustration of the mobile crane system. Credit: NASA
Two cranes, one in the rear and one in the front, will work in tandem to remove the 155,250-pound Endeavour. The shuttle will be raised straight up, allowing the 747 to retreat away, then lowered onto the overland transporter that will hold the ship for the foreseeable future.

About a dozen technicians will be among a team of nearly 30 people, including engineers and managers, are descending on Los Angeles for the operations. Many of workers now consider themselves to be a "jack of all trades" and not certain task specialists anymore with current workforce so small.

Once on the offloading is completed, expected by around 11 a.m. Saturday, the shuttle will be marked in the United Airlines hangar to stay out of the weather for next couple of weeks awaiting the strict move date to the museum.

Activities inside the hangar that shuttle workers will be performing, Stilson said, include removing the aerodynamic tailcone from Endeavour's aft, moving the body flap down to detach the cone and then repositioning it back up, flaring out the replica main engine nozzles from the "tuck" position, adjusting the orbiter vent doors, gaining access to the crew compartment to install ladders and access platforms, attaching soft window covers for the museum "parade" and mounting the orbital maneuvering system engine nozzles.

All of that work should take a week to complete before NASA hands full control over to the California Science Center around Sept. 28.

"We wanted to make sure we had a good contingency cushion because what they are planning takes a lot more coordination than what I'm planning," Stilson said.

"I have my self-controlled team, but they are dealing with all of municipalities of Inglewood and Los Angeles, they are having to bring down power poles and they have to do it in two separate segments because they are on the same node. So they have to bring down some lines, get (Endeavour) past that point, put those lines back up and take down the next lines. So it is really important that they hit their target (date)."

Endeavour leaves Edwards. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now
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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 on October 30.

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.