Endeavour’s final mission: Home

We believed it could fly, we believed it could touch the sky. It was on the move both night and day. It spread its wings, and crawled its way through the streets of Los Angeles, at two miles per hour at a snails pace for more than 56 hours. In a massive parade lasting two-and-a-half days, the space shuttle Endeavour traveled 12 miles through the streets of Los Angeles this past weekend, rolling through the communities of Westchester, Inglewood and Baldwin Hills, before finally arriving at the California Science Center Sunday morning.

Endeavour’s historic move began at 10 p.m. on Thursday, as it crept out of a hanger at LAX airport in the chilly night air. The shuttle arrived at its first public viewing on the corner of La Tijera Blvd and Sepulveda Eastway at around 7 a.m. Friday morning, meeting loud cheers and excited onlookers.

Spectators awaited the arrival of Endeavour for several hours. Frank Lazares, a resident of the city of Downey, arrived at his spot along La Tijera at 3 a.m Friday. His reason for being there so early in the morning resulted from a yearlong love of astronomy and the space program, he said.

Richard Stock, a local marriage and family therapist and former professional photographer, was looking to take the perfect shot of Endeavor. “You never know when the shot is going to be there, he said. “You stay as long as you can and hope for the best.”

The next destination of Endeavour was the world-famous Randy’s Donuts in the city of Inglewood. Spectators gathered to see the massive shuttle next to the larger-than-life donut affixed atop Randy’s. While not as iconic as Endeavour, the restaurant is a familiar sight in film and television productions.

Not only was the showing at Randy’s another opportunity for the public to witness the shuttle, but it also the site of an upcoming Toyota commercial where a Tundra pickup towed Endeavour across a bridge over the 405 freeway. Uproarious cheers and chants of “USA, USA!” filled the air during the three-minute moment that had to be seen to be believed.

While waiting for the shuttle to be towed, Santa Clarita native Paul Cardey expressed his feelings on the significance of Endeavour’s stroll through the city streets.

“The people paid for this,” Cardey said. “I have paid thousands every year in tax money to wherever it goes. So I think it’s great to put it out for the people to go view it.”

NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, Commander of the International Space Station who flew on Endeavour, shares Cardey’s thoughts on the shuttle’s potential lasting impact on the city of Los Angeles.

“I think people are going to be inspired. Not just the little ones, but even older people.  It’s going to bring to their minds a little more about science, technology and exploration,” Fincke said.

For the remainder of its journey, Endeavour was met with various unexpected delays.  Slated to arrive at the Baldwin Hills mall at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the shuttle did not arrive until five hours later.

On numerous occasions, the shuttle was stopped completely in order for city workers and engineers to trim tree branches, disassemble streetlights, and to fix a hydraulic malfunction.

Endeavour’s original arrival time at the California Science Center was estimated to be 9 p.m. on Saturday.  Most people who were waiting for the shuttle to arrive went home upon hearing the arrival time had been pushed back to 6 a.m. the next day.

However, Robert Haymond, who arrived at the museum on Saturday afternoon, did not follow the crowd. Instead, Haymond waited overnight for the shuttle’s arrival the following day.

“This is kind of a big deal,” he said.  “I think it’s worth waiting it out and seeing it show up to the Science Center.”

At 10:40 a.m. on Sunday, Endeavour made its final turn onto Bill Robertson Lane, breaking through caution tape, symbolizing the end of a slow but steady race to its new home. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, President of the California Science Center Jeff Rudolph, and others present at its arrival welcomed the shuttle.

Obtaining the space shuttle Endeavour was no simple feat for the California Science Center. The process was a one-year, national competition that saw the center competing with 29 other institutions vying for the opportunity to adopt the shuttle.

Rudolph reflected on the events leading up to the beginning of Endeavour’s final mission.

“Every step of the way, it’s still hard to believe. When we first got the announcement from NASA 18 months ago, it was amazing. When it landed at LAX, it was another amazing feeling,” he said. “And then, when we left the hangar, emotionally it’s like ‘Wow, this is real. We’re on the way, our last journey,”

Dr. Ken Phillips, Curator for Aerospace Sciences at the California Science Center, hopes that Endeavour will positively influence young students’ education.

“If we do our homework right, if we do our job right, we can use this vehicle not only to inspire some real science learning, but to empower kids; to actually help them do some real critical thinking and problem solving,” Dr. Phillips said.

Such a monumental task could not be completed without some casualties. Many local businesses closed their doors on the days Endeavour crept by, resulting in lost revenue.

Candance Blankenship, owner of Delian Music in Inglewood, stated she would take “a huge loss” on the day the shuttle was supposed to pass by her store. “It’s great for the community, but for business, not so good,” she added.

Loretta Gordon, owner of a beauty salon named A Style Of Your Own on Martin Luther King Blvd., was so upset about the closing of the streets that she did not want to participate in viewing the shuttle.

“I’m pretty sure I can watch it on TV,” she said. “I don’t want to be in all that crowd.”

Endeavour’s transport through Los Angeles was part of the $200 million budget to improve the CSC, which also includes the construction of the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.

But even with a delay stretching Endeavour’s journey by 17 hours, Mayor Villaraigosa was proud of the events that unfolded, calling Endeavour’s journey “a resounding success.”

“Mission 26, mission accomplished,” Villaraigosa said.

Endeavour will go on display at the Samuel Oschin Display Pavilion, open to the public on Oct. 30th.