"Endeavour’s Last Journey, Through Contentious Space"
September 19th, 2012
The New York Times
The space shuttle Endeavour traveled 122,883,151 miles during its 25 missions, bursting out of the atmosphere at more than 17,000 miles an hour. On the last flight of its 20-year career, a three-day victory lap across the country on the back of a transport aircraft, it will log a few thousand miles more before touching down for the final time on Friday at Los Angeles International Airport.
But the final segment of Endeavour’s journey has proved perhaps the toughest yet: 12 miles through the dense urban landscape of Los Angeles, past streetlights and trees, to say nothing of city bureaucracy and politics, on its way to retirement at the California Science Center.
A path was cleared just days before the shuttle’s scheduled arrival, but not without controversy. A storm of criticism and threats of legal action arose in low-income neighborhoods in South Los Angeles over plans to remove hundreds of trees to make way for the bulky aircraft.
“We would all like the space shuttle in Los Angeles; it’s a great asset,” Carl Morgan, a longtime South Los Angeles resident and member of the local neighborhood council, said last week. “But you don’t have to destroy the community to get the thing there, this disenfranchised community of color, which is just repeatedly disrespected.”
This week, the science center agreed to donate more than $2 million to those communities.
For all the jacarandas that fill the city and the palms that line the streets, South Los Angeles is low on shade and green space, and residents of this overwhelmingly black and Latino community remember when South Los Angeles families were forced from their homes to make way for the freeways.
Convinced that their community had too often been shunted aside by city power brokers, some residents threatened to sue to prevent the tree removal, forcing the last-minute concessions.
The science center, which has had to cut down 400 trees to clear a path for the shuttle, said it would replace the trees in South Los Angeles at a rate of four for each one removed, twice the rate of replacement in the neighboring city of Inglewood. It will also pay to repair thousands of feet of sidewalks, trim existing trees, train and hire local youths, and fund scholarships for hundreds of neighborhood children to attend its summer camp.
All told, said Jeffrey Rudolph, president of the center, more than $2 million will be spent in South Los Angeles, where the science center is located.
Los Angeles issued permits on Monday to allow the science center to begin taking out the trees.
“We know that some residents continue to be concerned and unhappy with the loss of trees, but we are doing everything we can to minimize the impact,” Mr. Rudolph said. “We will also be adding to South L.A. one of the most incredible educational resources and economic development resources in the world.”
Three other retired shuttles have taken their places at other locations: Enterprise is at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York, Discovery is in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Va., and Atlantis is at the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Fla.
Planning for Endeavour’s final trip, which will take place Oct. 12 and 13, was complicated from the start. “We’ve had this challenge of the logistics since NASA awarded us the Endeavour,” Mr. Rudolph said. “They said, ‘How are you going to get it from the airport to the science center?’ ”
Transporting the shuttle on the freeways was quickly ruled out, because it was too large to fit through an underpass. An airlift was impossible because of the shuttle’s weight: two helicopters could not lift it, and using more than two was considered too risky.
So planners turned to surface streets through Los Angeles and Inglewood.
The Endeavour is not the first famous oversize object to make its way through the streets here. Earlier this year, a 340-ton piece of rock art was hauled along public streets from a quarry in Riverside County to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a trip that took 11 nights, with travel only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Endeavour, though not nearly as heavy, is far larger — 122 feet long, with a wingspan of 78 feet and a tail that is 57 feet tall.
The aircraft will be carried aboard a 160-wheel carrier, designed to move bridges and ships, that can rotate 360 degrees in its own footprint. Trees will be felled, streetlights will be moved, telephone lines lifted.
And if all goes well, Endeavour will be open to the public, free of charge, by the end of October, housed in a temporary exhibition at the science center until a permanent display space is built.
Edward Conley, who lives nearby, said he planned to take his 8-year-old son, Jack, to see the shuttle as it makes its way through South Los Angeles.
“It’s historic,” Mr. Conley. “We didn’t get to see any of the takeoffs, and we’ll be able to see the space shuttle up close when it comes through the neighborhood.”
At least Endeavour will not have to fight the notorious Los Angeles rush-hour freeway traffic. But as it travels at just 2 miles per hour, it will be moving at about the same pace.