published Monday, October 15th, 2012

Well-traveled shuttle's last trip

Endeavour, the U.S. space shuttle that traveled nearly 123 million miles at speeds of around 17,500 mph during 20 years of active service, moves considerably more slowly in retirement. The venerable vehicle moved at a sedate 2 mph over the weekend as it journeyed the 12 miles from the Los Angeles airport to the California Science Center, where it will be put on permanent public display. It was a trip that in some ways as complicated as those into space.

Traveling through the congested, twisting streets of Los Angeles isn't easy in a conventional car or truck. Doing so with a 170,000- pound shuttle atop a special carrier is exponentially more difficult. The move, in fact, was choreographed over the course of a year by a team of experts. The result of the planning was not universally approved.

Some residents were irate that about 400 trees had to be removed and many others severely trimmed to allow the shuttle to pass. Others balked at the cost of the move -- about $10 million.

Still, most Los Angeles residents celebrated the shuttle in their midst. Thousands got up as early as 5 a.m. to watch as the vehicle inched along the street. They reveled at the chance to stand just yards away as the shuttle-- five stories tall and with a 78-foot wingspan -- inched past or as it was parked at intervals along the journey. It was a unique opportunity for ordinary Americans to interact directly with an extraordinarily important part of contemporary history.

The Endeavour -- the last built and thus the baby of the U.S. fleet and veteran of 25 flights -- will go on display at the science center on or around Oct. 30. Like its sister shuttles Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis on display in other museums and centers around the nation, it has a final but nevertheless vital task to accomplish.

Endeavour's new mission is to inspire people of all ages," Jeffrey Rudolph of the California Science Center, said, and "to inspire the next generation of scientists, explorers and engineers." If the crowds and awe the trip from airport to science center are any indication, Endeavour easily will fulfill that mission.

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