Friday, October 19, 2012

You Don’t See This Every Day: Space Shuttle Endeavour Rolls Through L.A.

While on a layover last Saturday, I was enjoying the panoramic view of balmy Los Angeles from my room at the Westin on Century Boulevard. I noticed four helicopters hanging around to the north of the hotel, just to the north of the final approach for runway 24R. I figured it was another sensationalized media coverage of some jet inbound to LAX with a landing gear problem – except that the helicopters just kept hanging out. A couple of hours later I glanced out the window and immediately knew why the helicopters were there – a mile-and-a-half to the north was the unmistakable sight of a space shuttle tail sticking up above the urban sprawl. I immediately grabbed my wheels (i.e. my running shoes) and camera and was out the door within 60 seconds for my second run of the day. This was one piece of history I wasn’t going to miss.

Rewind to earlier in the morning. As we were inbound to LAX, the First Officer mentioned that they were moving the space shuttle today. I didn’t give it much of a thought as to from where and to where. The shuttle was making its way from the airport to the California Science Center, its final home, retiring after 25 missions. This was a really big deal. The total cost of the two day, two mph drive from the airport to the museum was estimated at $10 million. They removed 200 streetlights and nearly 60 traffic signals, and cut down 393 trees. Clearly nobody in L.A. planned on hauling an orbiter across town.

This was the closest I’d ever gotten to a shuttle. Though I’d seen the shuttle piggybacked to its 747 taxi cab in Salt Lake City, this time the wingtip went nearly right over my head. It was great seeing the reaction of the crowds. Michael Jackson wouldn’t have caused this much of a stir – people everywhere clapping and hollering with more cameras than I’d ever seen before. Coupled with the warm weather and sunshine, it certainly seemed like an appropriate ending for this historic piece of America’s space program.

Click on the photos for a larger view.


Endeavour in its prime. Photo courtesy of NASA.

One of the many cranes that lifted the power lines so Endeavour could slide underneath.

The reporters were in full force.

The underside of the wing, showing a few of the 24,300 tiles that make up part of the shuttle's Thermal Protection System.

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