National Geographic
Menu

Space Shuttle Endeavour Inspires Los Angeles

According to one local resident, people in Los Angeles are hard to impress. “The Lakers win again? Eh. Hollywood stars, monsters, and explosions all over town? Eh. Just another day in this city.”

But bring a real spaceship to town and tow it through the streets? That’ll do it.

The space shuttle Endeavour began its journey to its eventual home at the California Science Center in the earliest hours of Friday, October 12th, but it never went faster than a 2 mph crawl and sometimes ground to a halt as workers guided it through narrow streets and coordinated crowds of onlookers. “Twenty-four hours to go from the airport to Inglewood? Sounds about right,” joked some locals in the crowd, even though that journey is less than a couple of miles.

Her first stop felt appropriate for LA, the parking lot of a shopping center. But on this day it was transformed into a street festival of kids, bikes, dogs, strollers, flags, and right in the middle…an actual space shuttle. People rushed around to get a look at her from all angles, the local charter school sold water and cookies. Add a funnel cake stand and some cotton candy and you would have had a space carnival.

The shuttle rests in a local Los Angeles shopping center parking lot. Hundreds of street signs, stoplights, trees, and other obstacles had to be temporarily removed to allow her to pass. By the next morning, all of these signs had been returned. Photo Credit: Jon Brack

 

That afternoon I walked down Manchester Avenue chatting with local residents as the shuttle approached its first major stop in front of Randy’s Donuts, a Los Angeles icon. People sat outside in lawn chairs in anticipation, not letting the fact that she might not be there until the next morning dampen their enthusiasm. No one mentioned the trees, or the traffic hassle, just pure joy at the possibility of catching a glimpse. The most common conversation starter was “did you see it when it flew over?” and almost always people remembered exactly where they were when she arrived a few weeks earlier and circled overhead.

 

The space shuttle Endeavour turns down Manchester Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, approaching the overpass for the 405 freeway. Here she had to change to a lighter transport to lessen the load on the bridge. Photo Credit: Jon Brack.

 

At sunset, she pulled down the street, and residents flocked to the sides of the freeway, pulling over their cars and scrambling up the embankment to get a better view and a quick photo. Endeavour crossed the 405 freeway overpass and arrived on the other side, where she remained over night, lit majestically for the crowds who continued to show up all through the night.

Crowds gather on the side of the 405 freeway in downtown Los Angeles to catch a glimpse of the shuttle. When she eventually crossed the overpass, police closed the highway to avoid onlookers from causing accidents. Photo Credit: Susan Poulton
After crossing the 405 freeway, the shuttle comes to rest for the night in front of the Best Western on Manchester Ave. Photo Credit: Jon Brack
Crowds eagerly snap photos of the shuttle during her overnight hours in front of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, a popular landmark in the neighborhood. Photo Credit: Susan Poulton

 

On Saturday, the crowds not lining the streets were waiting for Endeavour at the corner of Crenshaw Ave. and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. where a dance display choreographed by Debbie Allen awaited them, to be timed with the shuttle’s ninety-degree turn to face the final leg of her journey. The shuttle was delayed over six hours, and the dances happened without their planned backdrop.

But the crowds remained, and when the shuttle nosed into view just after sunset, towering above anything they expected, they literally screamed in excitement. People were genuinely surprised by her size and how, for lack of a better word, real she looked. “That’s a spaceship! In our backyard!” It was an emotional moment and there was an intense pride that’s difficult to put into words.

 

Crowds who had been waiting for hours for the shuttle to arrive got a treat when her tail and main engines swung over the crowd while making a ninety-degree turn onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Photo Credit: Susan Poulton

 

Personally, I’m always happy when people are talking about and excited about space exploration. Throughout the day, everyone on the street knew something about the shuttle, even if it was completely incorrect (“did you know it FOUND the moon?”), but the best part was the curiosity to know more demonstrated by everyone.

Just like earlier this month when the Curiosity rover landed on Mars, I think the biggest winners of the moment are exploration and science. I hope Endeavour serves as a catalyst to inspire more exploration in the decades ahead.

Debbie Allen captured it perfectly while keeping the crowds warmed up during the Saturday delays. “We are giving this town the greatest gift, the gift of possibility. This shows that it is possible. And all of the kids in all of the neighborhoods in Los Angeles, I ask them, what will their next mission be?”

So, what’s your next mission?

Comments

  1. satya pramod
    chandigarh
    September 7, 2013, 9:36 pm

    interesting and awesome

  2. nick
    in the office room
    January 23, 2013, 9:01 pm

    I like Chicken!!!!!!!!!
    and space shuttles

  3. shah chitrang
    ahmedabad
    November 12, 2012, 11:11 am

    nice awesome space shuttle.how i make an astronaut

  4. asep subekti
    depok,jawa barat indonesia
    October 18, 2012, 11:37 pm

    awesome,…

  5. rameshwer dutt sharma
    amritsar india
    October 18, 2012, 6:53 am

    very entertaining and knowledge giving.

  6. rameshwer dutt sharma
    amritsar punjab india
    October 18, 2012, 6:50 am

    very entertaining and general knowledge giving

  7. Bryan
    NC
    October 15, 2012, 4:07 pm

    Nice job!!!

  8. Suriya Prasad
    Hollywood,California
    October 15, 2012, 3:47 am

    What a beautiful sight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!