In a massive feat of parallel parking, the space shuttle Endeavour has backed into a Los Angeles parking lot for a pause on its final journey to a museum.
The 170,000-pound spacecraft was cheered by hundreds of viewers Friday morning as it made its predawn journey from a Los Angeles International Airport hangar through the Westchester neighbourhood.
The shuttle is crawling at three km/h on a two-day journey to the California Science Center, where it will go on display.
Endeavour went about five kilometres before stopping early Friday for a nine-hour layover as crews deal with power lines farther ahead on the route. Its final, 14-km trek will begin in the afternoon.
The first leg was delayed about two hours by a minor problem with the shuttle's carrier. It also made several stops so crews could prune trees in the path of its 75-foot wingspan.
While the shuttle will have the streets and sidewalks to itself as it inches past strip malls, storefronts, apartment buildings and front lawns, it will be a stop-and-go commute as crews temporarily remove traffic lights and re-route power lines to provide clearance.
Ushering a shuttle through an urban core is a logistical challenge that took almost a year to plan. Guarded by a security detail reminiscent of a presidential visit, police enforced rolling street and sidewalk closures on Thursday night in some locations and discouraged spectators from swarming side streets.
The behemoth transport has caused headaches for shopkeepers along the route who counted on cheering crowds jamming the curbs to boost business.
In the days leading up to Endeavour's move, the owners of Randy's Donuts sold shuttle-shaped pastries emblazoned with the NASA logo and even hung a shuttle replica inside the giant doughnut hole sign visible from the busy Interstate 405.
Co-owner Larry Weintraub planned to watch the shuttle creep by the roadside sign, which has been featured in several movies. But the store, which serves up sweets 24-7, will be closed Friday night.
"I'm still excited, but I'm disappointed that people aren't going to be able to stand in the streets and shout 'Yay,'" he said.
Saturday is typically the busiest day for James Fugate, who co-owns Eso Won Books in South Los Angeles. But with Endeavour expected to shuffle through, Fugate braced for a ho-hum day in sales.
"We don't close because we're slow. That's when you pull out a book to read," he said.
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 198 million kilometres.
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.
400 trees chopped down for move
Moving the 77,000-kilogram Endeavour requires a specialized 160-wheel 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-storey-tall shuttle and its 24-metre 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 travel mostly on wide boulevards with some boasting as many lanes as a freeway. 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 $9.8 million Cdn.
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, 48 kilometres 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-storey-tall chunk of granite was hauled 169 kilometres from a rock quarry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.