It was built for orbital speeds approaching five miles per second, but space shuttle Endeavour took its own sweet time Sunday as it wheeled triumphantly onto the grounds of its new home, the California Science Center.
“Mission 26 — mission accomplished,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced, amid the cheers of thousands of spectators. Before it was retired by NASA, the spacecraft had logged 25 flight missions.
However, its final journey was slowed by unexpected maintenance issues and last-minute maneuvers to avoid obstacles like trees and utility poles. Ultimately, the 85-ton orbiter survived the trip with nary a scratch.
Endeavour arrived at Exposition Park more than 16 hours late, after a three-day, 12-mile journey from Los Angeles International Airport.
In preparation for the move, the city of Los Angeles felled 268 trees to make room for Endeavour’s wings, while public works crews temporarily removed 223 traffic signals and raised more than 100 power and utility lines. Shuttle transporters designed a complex series of zigzag, crab-like movements to move the craft down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to avoid harming pine trees planted in honor of the late civil rights leader.
Even so, the journey was halted repeatedly so crews could do last-minute trims on tree branches. At one point, workers lowered the shuttle so it could sneak under the branches of a leafy tree.
The trip was also lengthened when a two-hour maintenance stop in Leimert Park on Saturday night stretched to five hours. As it began rolling again, crews spotted a hydraulic leak from one of the wheeled trailers under the spacecraft and hit the brakes.
Despite the delays, the crowds remained buoyant. When Endeavour reached the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Vermont Avenue about 10:45 a.m., thousands of people poured into the streets chanting “Science Center or bust!”, “Let’s go, let’s go!” and “So close, so close!”
The Los Angeles Police Department reported no arrests, although some spectators suffered heat exhaustion and other injuries.
Many spectators waited through the night or rose long before dawn for their chance to view a piece of history. Some were still clad in pajamas and bathrobes as the shuttle passed through their neighborhoods early in the morning.
Guy Quesada, 42, began his stakeout at the California Science Center at 4 p.m. Saturday. But after hours of waiting, he decided to find the shuttle on his own. He walked west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for about an hour and squeezed through the crowd to catch a glimpse. By Sunday morning, he had wandered back east to the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 6th Avenue, where he watched the shuttle through a pair of binoculars.
“The actual wing was right over us. It [crept] right over us,” Quesada said, smiling. He said he was close enough to read the numbers on the shuttle’s individual tiles.
Donna Rosen, 61, drove from Santa Clarita at 4 a.m. Sunday to walk alongside the shuttle for a few hours. For her, the mission was partly personal. In the early 1980s she had worked in the governor’s office in Texas and met shuttle astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen.
“I didn’t know it was on my bucket list, but it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Rosen said.
The California Science Center said the total bill for transporting Endeavour from LAX to its new home could top $10 million, a tab the center is covering with donations. Officials have stressed that none of the costs will be paid with taxpayer dollars.
Times staff reporters Frank Shyong, Joseph Serna, Wesley Lowery, Angel Jennings and Kate Mather contributed to this story.