Mark Kelly, left, commander of the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour,… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
Trees, traffic lights and power lines will have to come down -- how else could you possibly move 180,000 pounds of metal along an L.A. street, especially when it measures 122 feet long and has a wingspan of 78 feet?
That will be the next mission of the California Science Center, the state museum that on Tuesday was officially granted ownership of the retired space shuttle Endeavour.
The ship won't arrive until the latter half of 2012, fortunately, because finding a clear path for it will be a gargantuan task. Already, workers have taken images of a tentative route and fed them into a computer model, simulating how the shuttle would move across the city.
"It's going to come on top of a big airplane, a 747, and it's going to circle the L.A. area three times, and then we're going to have a parade -- the mother of all parades," L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said to cheers at the science center Tuesday. "And from LAX, through the great city of Inglewood, down Martin Luther King Boulevard, it is going to be a sight to be seen."
Los Angeles won the right to the shuttle after besting museums across the county in a competition sponsored by NASA. The science center plans to make Endeavour a centerpiece of its upcoming $170-million third wing, a new Air and Space Center.
Though officials won't need to tear down buildings or bridges to make way for Endeavour, smaller hindrances like traffic signals, power lines and trees could come down, said museum President Jeffrey N. Rudolph. The cities will be reimbursed by the museum for the cost of moving lights, and trees will be replaced after the move, the mayors of L.A. and Inglewood said.
After arriving at LAX and spending a week in a hangar, the shuttle will be prepared for a 14- or 15-hour journey to its new home at the Exposition Park museum. In space, the shuttle traveled at 17,500 mph, but on the ground its top speed will average about 1 mph.
"We might really speed up a couple of times to 2 or 3 miles an hour," Rudolph said.
According to officials, the preliminary route envisions the shuttle crossing over the 405 Freeway, traveling through Inglewood on Manchester Boulevard, and then approaching the museum via Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards.
"We can do it," Rudolph said. "You go over a freeway. It's just the capacity of the bridge to handle the weight, and we've got that. You can't go under, unless you're taking a bridge down. But we're not going to do another 'Carmageddon.'
"There's no single thing that's a big obstacle. It's hundreds of power cables, hundreds of telephone cables, hundreds of lights and poles, and we can't miss one of those. Because if we get eight miles from the airport and someone says, 'Oops, we forgot about that,' that's not going to look very good," Rudolph said.
One street that will probably lose trees is Crenshaw Boulevard, but those trees would have to come down anyway for the construction of a light rail line, he said.
Despite the headaches of bringing the shuttle to the city, Villaraigosa and Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts welcomed Endeavour.
Said Butts: "Really, the largest impact is going to be the spark that's going to get to the imagination of the community and to the children. It'll be something on the order of an Olympics being held in town."