Spaceflight Now

Shuttle reaches retirement roost in sunny SoCal

Posted: October 14, 2012

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Shimmying, zig-zagging and pivoting to dodge trees and poles in the final stretch, the space shuttle Endeavour pulled into her new residence for retirement Sunday, capping an arduous two-and-a-half-day trek through Los Angeles to reach the California Science Center at Exposition Park.

"Mother of all parades." Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now
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Used to orbiting the planet at five miles per second, this dramatic Earth-bound journey took 61 hours to cover 12 miles -- 16 hours longer than planned -- with a million spectators packing sidewalks along the route to soak in this once-in-a-lifetime event.

"Mother of all parades, baby!" said LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Endeavour's move to her exhibition hall completes three of the four shuttle deliveries, as NASA distributes the vehicles to display sites now that the 40-year-program is over.

On April 12, 2011, the California Science Center was selected in the hotly-contested race to get an orbiter, joining the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, D.C., Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and New York's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum as the winners of Discovery, Atlantis and prototype Enterprise. Only Atlantis remains to be shipped out, an event coming up on Nov. 2.

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.

Shuttle enters California Science Center. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
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.

The science center constructed a building -- the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion, named in honor of the late philanthropist -- to house Endeavour for display. It opens to the public on Oct. 30.

"Endeavour is a true national treasure," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). "I encourage each and every one of you, bring your friends, family and neighbors to the California Science Center to experience the impressive display of what may be considered the most complex machine ever built by mankind."

But the pavilion is meant to be only a temporary facility for the shuttle, as museum leaders envision grander plans to exhibit the 149,000-pound 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.

"I have had the pleasure of seeing their initial designs and let me tell you it's going to be really cool," said Stephanie Stilson, the NASA official in charge of decommissioning the space shuttle orbiters.

Endeavour's galley where astronauts prepared their meals and the space toilet both were removed from the ship's middeck for exhibiting outside of the shuttle, affording visitors a better view of the hardware that made the ship an orbital home to crews on 25 missions.

Endeavour waits to enter Pavilion. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
Another element for the center is the Spacehab module, acquired through Astrotech, that was flown most recently on Endeavour's STS-118 flight with teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan to the International Space Station, taking up a load of supplies and experiments. The vessel rode in the payload bay and was connected to the shuttle's crew module through a tunnel.

"They have lofty goals of installing that," Stilson said.

But NASA turned full possession and control of Endeavour over to the California Science Center. It will be up to the museum to insert the Spacehab module into Endeavour's payload bay and perform the work to hoist the shuttle upright for mating to the external fuel tank and booster rockets.

"We have, of course, given them our procedures of how we would do it (and) also given them lists of names of experts to consult with from United Space Alliance, pull those guys in and get their expertise."

USA was the private contractor whose workforce performed the the day-to-day operations that readied space shuttles for launch. But the end of the program sent that vast team into layoffs and retirements.

The eventual plans would display Endeavour, standing vertical, with the 60-foot-long payload bay doors open to see the Spacehab module tucked aboard.

"We won't have any official capacity or role, as of right now, things could change if they came back and said we officially want something, but I think we have a good partnership and will continue to consult with them and give them any type of help they could need," Stilson said.

"But really we will rely on those folks they could potentially hire from United Space Alliance, hire them as consultants and let them do that task because they are true experts."

Endeavour at the corner of MLK Saturday night. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now
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In addition to handing over NASA procedures to use, the museum will get the space agency's ground-handling equipment for the operations.

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 and just west of the 110 Harbor Freeway.

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.

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.

She left her homeport at the Kennedy Space Center for the final time Sept. 19 mounted atop the modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, stopping in Houston and then Edwards Air Force Base before arriving at the Los Angeles International Airport on Sept. 21.

Endeavour was offloaded the next day and placed on a 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. Industrial wheel dollies were added to the overland carrier for the Endeavour procession from LAX.

Crowds came early and stayed late to see Endeavour. Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now
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To await the precise dates negotiated in advance for the disruptive trek to the science center -- shutting down power, moving lines and the street signals out of the way -- Endeavour was parked in a United Airlines hangar from Sept. 22 until late Thursday night.

A self-propelled transporter under the control of one person using a remote joystick while walking alongside the vehicle moved the shuttle, periodically switching between wide and narrow spacings of its wheel dollies to straddle the roadways. A thousand-person team worked the exhausting procession to get Endeavour delivered safely and with no incidents reported by police.

But tree and utility poles posing as dangerous obstacles to the fragile shuttle caused the movers to slow the progress Saturday morning and then long into the evening. A celebration produced by renowned actress and choreographer Debbie Allen, complete with dancers and singers, at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Blvd. with Endeavour there was supposed to happen at 2 p.m. Saturday. The show had to go on without Endeavour, however, which didn't arrive until 7:30 p.m.

Sunday morning presented very challenging conditions of crab-walking the shuttle's 78-foot wingspan down MLK, often having to back up a feet to safely angle the spaceship safely through.

"Mother of all parades." Credit: Walter Scriptunas II/Spaceflight Now
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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.

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.

A million people came to see Endeavour over three days. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
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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.

"Endeavour was born here," said State Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood). "The Endeavour was (assembled) between Palmdale and Downey. There were parts made in Inglewood and Long Beach. Southern California made the Endeavour. Southern California gave the Endeavour to the world and this morning, here in the great city of Inglewood, we have the opportunity to say 'Welcome home.'"