LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The retired space shuttle Endeavour was getting set on Thursday for a road trip unlike any of its previous journeys, one that will see it crawl through the streets of Los Angeles instead of hurtling through the solitary reaches of space.
Endeavour will nose out of Los Angeles International Airport at about 2 a.m. on Friday as it begins a two-day ground journey atop a massive wheeled transporter to its final resting place at the California Science Center on the edge of downtown.
“It’s a working piece of American history. It’s a fantastic technical innovation. It represents the very best, I think, of what people can do when they decide to cooperate and do good things,” said Ken Phillips, aerospace curator at the science center, where the hulking craft will go on public display.
The California Science Center beat out a number of other institutions when NASA chose it as the permanent home for the 80-ton winged spaceship that flew from 1992 to 2011.
Endeavour has hop-scotched across the country from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the back of a modified Boeing 747. Spectators have cheered and wept at the sight of the space vehicle, which was taken out of service due to the historic end of the NASA shuttle program that began with a launch in 1981.
Endeavour has been parked at Los Angeles International Airport since September 21, when it arrived there after a ceremonial piggyback flight around California.
Workers have felled 400 curbside trees along Endeavour’s 12-mile land path to ease its road journey. The California Science Center will plant more than 1,000 trees along the route in place of those uprooted.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said that when the Endeavour flew over the city last month, she and her colleagues ran up to the roof of City Hall where they watched it with tears in their eyes.
Perry said she remained apprehensive about the road journey, when she said Endeavour will pass through intersections with as little as 6 inches of clearance. She also anticipates large crowds along the way.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the space shuttle come down your neighborhood street,” Perry said. “How often does that happen?”
Los Angeles police plan to begin closing streets as early as 10 p.m. on Thursday to prepare for what organizers are calling “Mission 26,” in reference to the shuttle’s 25 previous missions into space.
Soon after rolling out of the Los Angeles airport, the shuttle will pass through the nearby city of Inglewood where on Saturday morning it will be star in a massive rally outside an arena where the Los Angeles Lakers once played.
Later that day, it will stop at a shopping mall in south Los Angeles where officials will speak and a dance academy started by “Fame” actress Debbie Allen will perform.
Once it finally arrives at the California Science Center, it will be put on display for the public in a hanger-style metal structure to protect it from the elements, Phillips said. But that is only temporary.
The California Science Center plans to build a pavilion around the shuttle that will open in 2017 with Endeavour standing vertically in the middle of it, Phillips said.
The other space ships from the shuttle program also each have a home. The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., has Discovery, New York has its own museum for the Intrepid and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in Florida has Atlantis.
“We have enjoyed the space shuttles, at least working here at NASA, and it’s time now to let the public enjoy seeing the shuttle first-hand, getting an up-close look at it,” NASA spokeswoman Lisa Malone said.
Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman