The final voyage of the Space Shuttle Endeavour was delayed by Canary Island pine trees and a broken transporter, but the spaceship docked at its temporary hanger at the California Science Center Sunday.
Crowds of people 25 thick stood on the sidewalks and cheered as its wings passed directly over their heads on a city street. At one point, the nose of the bird was within inches of a church as it sat at a 30-degree angle on a seven-lane-wide street, one wing inches away from a streetlight pole, the other amidst a tree.
More extensive maneuvering was required to make one last sharp left turn into Exposition Park, and the space orbiter arrived at the California Science Center at about 1:10 p.m., about a half day late. A crowd estimated by the California Science Center at over 1 million people had gaped at Endeavour as it moved across Los Angeles and Inglewood over Friday, Saturday and today. "All along the route, you could see in the faces of adults, and of children, an excitement, an exhilaration, a coming together,'' marveled L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a KNX interview.
Today's last miles were a nip and tuck affair, as trimmers tried to snip the bare minimum of branches from trees planted in the late 1980s to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the boulevard named in his honor. At points, the shuttle on its transporters was moving diagonally,
backing up, and then nosing past trees. In some narrow passages, "the trees are within a credit card's width of the wings'' California Science Center spokesman Eric French told ABC7.
"Endeavour is now entering the narrowest portion of the route,'' Carlos Calvillo of the Los Angeles Fire Department said shortly before midnight. "The narrow streets and darkness have slowed Endeavour's schedule.'' At 9:45 a.m., the shuttle was at Western Avenue. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. at Menlo Avenue, where the
shuttle was expected to turn north into Exposition Park. "Warm temperatures are anticipated for today,'' Calvillo warned. "We remind everyone to be prepared for the heat and long wait lines.''
Forty-three people who were waiting in the sun Saturday needed medical attention, mostly for dehydration or other heat-related issues, city firefighters said. With forecasts for today in the high 80s, spectators were exhorted to bring water and food.
The shuttle was about 10 hours behind schedule for its arrival at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall Saturday, where an elaborate welcoming ceremony that was scheduled for 2 p.m. was executed at 5, with the shuttle nowhere in sight. Huge crowds grew throughout the day - at one point, 30,000 people lined one mile of Crenshaw at Leimert Park.
Because of the delay, Metro kept its trains running citywide all night. The Red, Purple, Blue, Orange and Expo lines have been touted as a convenient way to get to the shuttle route.
Some time was lost Saturday while crews worked on and reconfigured the four self-propelled rigs the shuttle is riding on to squeeze along MLK Jr. Boulevard, which is narrower than Crenshaw.
The move is expected to cost about $10 million, and a fundraising campaign has been begun to built a permanent hangar for the 122-foot-long orbiter. The tail section of the shuttle stands about five-stories tall, its wingspan is about 77 feet.
The early going was smoother Saturday, with Endeavour arriving at the Forum in Inglewood for a breather about 45 minutes early.
The shuttle will go on public display beginning Oct. 30.
Endeavour was built to replace Challenger, which blew up Jan. 28, 1986. It spent a total of 296 days in space, logging 25 mission and 4,671 orbits. Its missions included retrieving errant satellites, participating in the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope and servicing the International Space Station.
Those who can't make it to see the shuttle today will soon have another chance when it debuts at the Science Center Oct. 30. NASA's space shuttle program has been discontinued after 30 years.
Hawthorne-based SpaceX is now sending supplies to the International Space Station in unmanned vehicles and is working toward the development of a manned vehicle. Russian Soyuz spacecraft are being used for ferrying people to and from the space station.