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.
Last month, it wowed throngs with a dizzying aerial loop, soaring over the state Capitol, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Sign and other California landmarks while strapped to the back of a modified 747 before finally landing at LAX.
The last leg of Endeavour's retirement journey skips the tourist attractions and instead, winds through blue-collar communities in southern Los Angeles County. While viewing will be severely curtailed due to sidewalk shutdowns, crowds are still expected.
Moving the 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.
To make room for the five-story-tall shuttle and its 78-foot wingspan, some 400 trees were chopped down, cable and telephone lines were raised, and steel plates were laid down to protect the streets and underground utilities.
Endeavour will mostly travel on wide boulevards with some boasting as many lanes as a freeway. While there have been advance preparations, there is remaining work to be done during the move, including de-energizing power lines. Southern California Edison warned of outages in the suburb of Inglewood.
One of the trickiest parts involves trundling through a narrow residential street with apartment buildings on both sides. With Endeavour's wings expected to intrude into driveways, residents have been told to stay indoors until the shuttle passes.
The route was selected after ruling out other options. Dismantling the shuttle would have ruined the delicate heat tiles. Helicoptering it to its destination was not feasible. Neither was crossing on freeways since the shuttle is too big to fit through the underpasses. The cost of transporting it cross-town was estimated at over $10 million.
As complex as the latest endeavor is, Southern California is no stranger to moving heavy things.
In 1946, Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose" aircraft was built in sections and hauled from Culver City to Long Beach, 30 miles away. In 1984, an old United Airlines DC-8, with its wings and tail disassembled, was towed from Long Beach to the science center.
Earlier this year, a two-story-tall chunk of granite was hauled 105 miles from a rock quarry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Associated Press Writer Raquel Maria Dillon in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
Alicia Chang can be followed at http://twitter.com/SciWriAlicia .
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