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.
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.
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.
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.
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?