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Shuttle inches toward retirement home at LA museum

By Alicia Chang

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 14 2012 12:29 a.m. MDT

Spectators take pictures as the space shuttle Endeavour makes its way through city streets in Los Angeles, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. Endeavour's 12-mile road trip kicked off shortly before midnight Thursday as it moved from its Los Angeles International Airport hangar en route to the California Science Center.

Patrick T. Fallon, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — 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.

Having escaped out of Earth's atmosphere two dozen times, Endeavour's slow-speed trek Saturday to its retirement center took it through the working-class streets of southern Los Angeles.

In an instant, the shuttle crossings became part of history.

"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.

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

Others wondered if it could just hurry up to its destination as its planned hour of arrival came and went with the end nowhere in sight.

Endeavour had been scheduled to inch into the California Science Center early Saturday evening to begin its years as a museum piece, but delay after delay pushed the expected arrival time past 1 a.m. Sunday, perhaps hours later.

Agencies scrambled to make new plans. Because it was spending far more hours in darkness than expected, a pair of city fire trucks with generators and huge halogen lights were brought in to accompany it.

Subway and light rail lines further extended their special operating hours well into the night, with some running 24 hours.

The second day of the move started off promising, with Endeavour beginning the day 1½ hours ahead of schedule and ending it at least six hours behind.

There was no major single reason for the slowdown — it was the accumulation of small problems involving maneuvering and maintenance.

They included a small tree on the narrowest section of the move that planners hadn't thought needed removal but ended up bringing the procession to a stop. As crews tried to find ways to tilt and twist the shuttle past the tree, they came close to deciding to cut it down before Endeavor squeezed through. Another slip-up came when it appeared the shuttle was going to hit a light post, and crews again began plans to remove it as the ship slid through.

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

But incredibly, given the size of the crowd, police reported no arrests.

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 Rodney King beating.

"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.

Endeavour hit the pavement before dawn Friday, trundling out of the Los Angeles International Airport on a remote-controlled 160-wheel carrier past diamond-shaped "Shuttle Xing" signs. When it reached a freeway overpass that night, it was towed by a truck.

The shuttle made a late-morning pit stop Saturday at the Forum — former home of the Los Angeles Lakers — where it was greeted in the arena's parking lot by a throng of cheering spectators. It was late to its second public celebration that included a dance performance choreographed by Debbie Allen.

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