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Endeavour inching towards last retreat

LOS ANGELES: Thousands of Angelenos turned out Saturday to watch the US space shuttle Endeavour make the final leg of its journey to its LA retirement home at the stately pace of two miles per hour.

On the second and final day of its 12-mile (19 kilometers) trip across Los Angeles, the spacecraft — which zoomed at 17,500 miles per hour when in Earth’s orbit — was aiming to reach its berth in the California Science Center by nightfall.

The day started with a public party for the shuttle, which left LA International (LAX) Airport on Friday and was transported by cranes across the 405 freeway, a major north-south route, overnight.

“What a great view, huh?” California Science Center head Jeffrey Rudolph asked the crowds in Inglewood, where the shuttle stopped for 30 minutes of speeches and celebrations, music from “Men in Black” blaring in the background.

The final leg of the trip was not without challenges: the enormous 78-ton vehicle, mounted on a huge, computerized, multi-part transporter, had to negotiate some of the narrowest stretches of its route during the day.

Organizers had to steer the massive white craft through a series of turns — including at least one that squeezed it to within inches of nearby buildings — before hitting the real home straight down Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.

Some 400 trees have had to be cut down — initially provoking protests from locals — and power lines turned off to make way for the vehicle.

The shuttle, which flew more than 115 million miles in its two-decade career, landed at LAX three weeks ago, piggy-backed on a specially-fitted 747.

Since then, it had been housed in an airport hangar. But it was rolled out overnight Thursday for its final journey.

The shuttle’s high-tech carrier consists of four separate wheeled units, which can each turn independently to maneuver their load around difficult corners.

The separated segments are also able to straddle the center divider of LA’s wide city streets — some of which had hosted the trees cut down in advance. Authorities placated protesters with pledges to plant several times as many replacement trees.

Former shuttle commander Mark Kelly, who captained Endeavour’s final flight, said he hoped the craft would become an inspiration for future generations of astronauts.

“Maybe someday one of these kids that see Endeavour, look up at it at the California Science Center, will be that person that walks on the planet Mars,” he told CNN, adding: “That would be a great thing to see.”

After NASA brought an end to the 30-year shuttle program last year, major US cities battled for the right to house the four retired vehicles.

Enterprise, the prototype that never flew into space, is now on permanent display on the runway of the Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York.

The Kennedy Space Center will keep Atlantis, and Discovery is on display at a museum outside Washington.

Two other shuttles were destroyed in flight. Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff in 1986, and Columbia broke apart upon re-entry to Earth in 2003. Both disasters killed everyone on board. (AFP)

 courtesy: The News 



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