On Friday, hundreds of camera-toting spectators, some with pajama-clad children in tow, gaped as the 170,000-pound Endeavour inched by with its tail towering over streetlights and its wings spanning the roadway.
Over two days, it will trundle 12 miles at a top speed of 2 mph to its final destination _ the California Science Center where it will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit. It’s expected to reach the museum sometime Saturday evening.
After an initial bumpy ride and a brief delay, the shuttle pulled off a massive feat of parallel parking by backing into a shopping center parking lot for a layover as crowds cheered on.
“This is unlike anything we’ve ever moved before,” said Jim Hennessy, a spokesman for Sarens, the contract mover.
Spectators flocked to the parking lot in the Westchester neighborhood to get a glimpse of Endeavour, which was guarded by an entourage of police, private security and construction crews.
Janet Dion, a family therapist from nearby Manhattan Beach, marveled at the shuttle, its exterior weathered by millions of miles in space and two dozen re-entries.
“You can sense the magnitude of where it’s been,” Dion said, fixated on the heat tiles that protected the shuttle during the return to Earth.
James Nieuwdorp, a technician for a transit agency, saw Endeavour’s aerial victory lap around California last month and traveled to see it again before it becomes a museum piece.
He enjoyed how the shuttle brought strangers together. There was “lot of camaraderie _ something that’s hard to be seen these days,” he said.
Shuffling a five-story-tall shuttle through urban streets was an undertaking that took nearly a year to plan. Because the 78-foot wingspan hangs over sidewalks in some locations, police enforced rolling street and sidewalk closures along the route.
The limited access frustrated some businesses that counted on huge crowds lining the curbs to boost business.
Saturday is typically the busiest day for James Fugate, who co-owns Eso Won Books in South Los Angeles. But with Endeavour expected to pass through, Fugate braced for a ho-hum day in sales.
“We don’t close because we’re slow. That’s when you pull out a book to read,” he said.
The baby of the shuttle fleet, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986, killing seven astronauts. It thundered off the launch pad 25 times, orbited Earth nearly 4,700 times and racked up 123 million miles.
Transporting Endeavour required a specialized carrier typically used to haul oil rigs, bridges and heavy equipment. The wheels can spin in any direction, allowing the shuttle to zigzag past obstacles. An operator walks alongside, controlling the movements via joystick. Several spotters along the wings are on the lookout for hazards.