Endeavour’s final miles turn into all-night affair

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - In thousands of Earth orbits, the space shuttle Endeavour traveled 123 million miles. But the last few miles of its final journey are proving hard to get through.

Endeavour’s 12-mile crawl across Los Angeles to the California Science Center hit repeated delays Saturday and Sunday, leaving expectant crowds along city streets and at the destination slowly dwindling.

Officials estimated the shuttle, originally expected to finish the trip early Saturday evening, would not arrive at the museum until early Sunday afternoon.

At times it has seemed the only thing moving was the shuttle’s fast-changing ETA.

Saturday started off promising, with Endeavour 90 minutes ahead of schedule. But accumulated hurdles and hiccups caused it to run hours behind at day’s end. The problems included longer than expected maintenance of the rig carrying the shuttle and physical obstacles within the shuttle’s wingspan including light posts, building edges, and most of all trees.

In a scene that repeated itself many times, a small tree on the narrowest section of the move brought the procession to a stop, forcing crews to find creative ways to dip a wing under or raise it over the tree without having to cut it down.

Some 400 trees had been removed to avoid such situations, but officials said most of the trees that gave them trouble could not be cut down because they were old or treasured for other reasons, including some planted in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

The crowd had its problems too. Despite temperatures in the mid-70s, several dozen people were treated for heat-related injuries after a long day in the sun, according to fire officials.

But it was a happy, peaceful crowd, with firefighters having only to respond to a sheared hydrant and a small rubbish fire, and no reports of any arrests.

And despite the late problems the mood for most of the day was festive.

At every turn of Endeavour’s stop-and-go commute through urban streets, a constellation of spectators trailed along as the space shuttle ploddingly nosed past stores, schools, churches and front yards as it inched through working-class streets of southern Los Angeles.

Along the 12-mile course, thousands marveled at the engineering. Some rooted for Endeavour when it appeared it might clip a light post.

“This is great for the city as a whole. It makes us proud,” said Dean Martinez, a project director for a nonprofit who began waiting before dawn to get a glimpse of Endeavour.

Unlike other high-profile events like the Academy Awards or the Rose Parade, the procession was centered in some of the area’s most economically downtrodden and troubled places. The shuttle passed several gritty areas and shuttered businesses, and rolled down many streets that were aflame two decades earlier during the 1992 riots brought on by the verdict in the Rodney King case.

“Having a shuttle come through this area of high poverty, it can only be a good thing” for the community,” said Damian Pipkins, a volunteer at Eso Won Books.

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