So it won’t be The Rock. The access will be tighter and the pageantry slighter than when LACMA’s 340-ton boulder rolled through town.
Early reports had raised hopes that the move of the Space Shuttle Endeavour from LAX to the California Science Center would become a rolling parade like the one that accompanied the immense granite stone in Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” at LACMA. But as logistical realities set in, it became clear that the Endeavour, which has a 78-foot wingspan, is about four times as wide, six times as long and twice as high as the “Levitated Mass” boulder.
Moreover, the spacecraft requires a 10-foot clearance on each side because it is covered in a special lightweight, silica-based, thermal insulation so fragile that raindrops can dent it. Its wings can’t be removed and replaced like an airplane’s. And to the chagrin of many, hundreds of trees had to be cut down to accommodate Endeavour’s massive silhouette.
“It’s so big that the street is barely wide enough in some places to accommodate the shuttle itself, let alone the crowd control on the sidewalk,” says LAPD Sgt. Rudy Lopez.
“It’s a safety issue,” agrees project director Marty Fabrick of the California Science Center Foundation, noting that the crews operating the shuttle’s special transporter will have their hands full just maneuvering it under power lines and around corners with scant clearance between the wheels and the curb. “They have to have 100% focus on what they’re doing. We don’t want them distracted by the worry that someone will fall off a curb and get hurt.”
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of chances to glimpse the cross-town progress of “Mission 26”, as it’s been dubbed. From organized events to wide spots on the 12-mile route, thousands are expected to witness the spacecraft’s road trip, which begins at about 12:01 a.m. Friday, October 12, when it pulls out of its United Airlines hangar en route to the Science Center, where it’s expected to touch down Saturday night. (Click here for a schedule and here for a route map.)
Updated 10/12/12: Endeavour’s last ride is underway. Check out this video posted at Curbed L.A. to see the craft crossing Sepulveda Boulevard.
Despite the disappointment that has arisen since the Los Angeles Police Department announced that sidewalks on much of the route would be closed for safety reasons, Fabrick promises that “people will have ample opportunity to see this historic move.”
Two planned celebrations are scheduled for Saturday, and at least two pit stops will offer a decent view of the shuttle, as will some parts of Crenshaw Boulevard for those lucky enough to live nearby. Locals along the route also will get a good look as the Endeavour passes homes, malls and markets, as well as landmarks such as Inglewood City Hall.
Some 700 LAPD cadets and volunteers will be doing crowd control and event security, and police have urged spectators to expect large crowds, heavy traffic and delays. And lots of street closures: Access to the south side of Los Angeles International Airport will be restricted during the move for security reasons, for example, and the shuttle’s planned 2:30 a.m. exit from LAX via Northside Parkway will be open to credentialed media only.
Despite the little Endeavour in the donut hole, Randy's will be closed to the shuttle-viewing public Friday afternoon.
Also, the Friday night crossing of the 405 Freeway at the Manchester Bridge will be a tougher ticket than some might expect, given the location. The California Highway patrol will be closing ramps and running traffic stops to discourage gawking, and the crossing itself isn’t scheduled to take place until sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight.
And just as a side note: Though it might be tempting to try to catch the crossing at, say, Randy’s Donuts, the iconic shop with the giant doughnut just off the freeway, don’t bother. Larry Weintraub, the owner, had initially been expecting a large crowd of shuttle enthusiasts and had even added a mini-Endeavour to the hole of his famous doughnut.
But because of the many sidewalk closures, he ended up instead renting his lot to Toyota, which expects to bring in about 150 people to film the crossing.
The company —a longtime corporate supporter of the science center—agreed to tow the Endeavour across the overpass with a Toyota Tundra pickup truck and a specialized dolly. The maneuver is needed because Caltrans’ weight distribution requirements for the bridge called for a different tow mechanism than the Endeavour’s transportation system.
Even though Randy’s will be closed to everyone but Toyota guests on Friday after 2 p.m., the shuttle should be easily visible from several formal and informal venues. Among the better opportunities:
La Tijera Boulevard and Sepulveda Eastway in Westchester
A commercial lot, this will be the shuttle’s first layover, on Friday from about 4:15 a.m. until about 1:30 p.m. Donation of the space—look for the Citibank and the Quizno’s—was arranged by Westchester management company Drollinger Properties, which agreed to let the shuttle park there while crews move some power lines and make some adjustments to its customized carrier.
Inglewood Forum at 3900 W. Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood
Though the shuttle is scheduled to pass by Inglewood City Hall at about 8 a.m. on Saturday, space is limited and officials are encouraging the public to go straight to the party at the Forum, where the shuttle is expected to be parked briefly from about 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. “That will be the real public kickoff,” says Fabrick, noting that the city is anticipating a crowd of some 10,000 people and that Hollywood Park will be offering free parking starting at 4 a.m. (no overnight camping.) “There will be a formal program and astronauts and a band and color guard. And the shuttle is so big and high that you won’t need to be on the curb to have a great view of it.”
Crenshaw Boulevard between 54th Street and Leimert Boulevard
The shuttle is expected to pass by here between about 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Though outsiders are being discouraged due to a lack of parking, the area is expected to have one of the better vantage points for locals who can walk or bike there. “The shuttle is going to be completely on the north side of the center median, so the sidewalk on the south side will be open,” says Fabrick, “and locals should have a fantastic view.”
Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Saturday’s second big celebration is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. This one will have a special show produced and directed by choreographer Debbie Allen; seating will be limited, with seats distributed by mall officials. Police anticipate a standing room only crowd of several thousand and have urged spectators to arrive early. The program is expected to last about an hour, but after the shuttle’s 2 p.m. scheduled arrival, crews will be spending another hour or so at the site adjusting the shuttle carrier for the next leg of the trip.
Bill Robertson Lane at Exposition Park
This will be where the shuttle turns toward the California Science Center on Saturday at approximately 8:30 p.m., and probably the last, best place to see Endeavour before it is installed at the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Display Pavilion. Viewers will be encouraged to gather at four parking lots north of MLK between Bill Robertson Lane and Vermont Avenue. Public transportation is available by bus and via the Expo Line light rail.
Endeavour’s grand opening will be October 30, with early access for science center members. Admission to the science center and the shuttle is free, but viewers are encouraged to obtain time tickets to reserve a space. (Click here for membership information and here for time ticketing.)
It will be housed in a museum hangar pending completion of its permanent home at the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, which is aiming for completion by 2018.