Vikki Vargas and Beth Slepp-Pazz
Shuttle Endeavour completed its 12 mile commute from LAX to the California Science Center
As thousands of people watched, some bleary-eyed from a night on the sidewalk, others freshly awakened to a new day, the space shuttle Endeavour made its way slowly down Martin Luther King Blvd. toward the California Science Center on Sunday.
The retired spacecraft, mounted on a massive transporter and moving so slowly that people could walk beside it, reached the Exposition Park grounds shortly after noon. It stopped - possibly blocked by trees and a power pole - for about 50 minutes before gliding forward once again.
After a ceremony and speeches by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others, it was slated to move the last few yards onto a waiting hangar later in the afternoon.
For residents along Martin Luther King Blvd., the shuttle's passing left a stream of debris where spectators once stood. Trimmings from historic pine trees lay on the ground.
At Gustavo Rodas' family home, some cleaning was in order. But the family didn't mind.
The shuttle passing by, he said, "doesn't happen every day."
About a 1,000 Los Angeles police officers helped keep order around the shuttle, part of a multi-agency task force charged with organizing the Endeavour's move from Los Angeles International Airport to the science museum near downtown.
Members of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation followed the spacecraft down Martin Luther King Blvd. for the last stretch of its 12-mile journey, turning the traffic lights back on.
Each light, said spokesman Brian Kolacinski, took about 90 minutes to restore.
The shuttle had initially been expected to reach the Science Center by Saturday night, but a number of unexpected problems impeded its progress, said Eric French, a public information officer for the multi-agency task force handling the move.
First, a number of trees had to be cut down in order to make way for the enormous shuttle, French said. Then, during the night, a hydraulic leak developed in the transporter.
"The contractor had a repair truck right near Endeavour so we were able to fix that last night," he said.
The biggest challenge, he said, was the darkness. "We had to move it very slowly," French said.
By 9:30 a.m., the orbiter was still making its slow crawl toward Exposition Park, steered cautiously down Martin Luther King Blvd. as crowds gathered along both sidewalks.
The shuttle turned slightly in the street at about 7 a.m., aiming its nose toward the people gathered on one side of the street, and its tail, at a diagonal, toward those on the other side.
It was a dramatic moment that brought gasps from some who were watching.
Authorities initially estimated that the massive spacecraft would arrive by nightfall on Saturday, but its schedule remained fluid, according to the "Unified Command" overseeing the massive move.
The 170,000-pound, five-story-tall shuttle was delayed by last-minute tree trimming, other obstacles in the roadway and regularly scheduled maintenance on the shuttle's transporter.
At about 8 p.m. Saturday, Endeavour stopped at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards and remained there till after midnight while technicians changed the configuration of its transporter, according to Los Angeles police.
The next part of its route -- east on MLK Boulevard -- is a tricky part of the trip where the shuttle will have to pivot to avoid historic, tall pine trees lining the street.
During Saturday's warm afternoon, several in the crowd along the shuttle's route were treated for heat-related illnesses. Unified Command said it had responded to 34 calls for medical service, and it warned onlookers to wear comfortable shoes and bring food and water.
Those out much later than they expected were given a public transit reprieve by Metro, which said it would run rail lines overnight into Sunday instead of shutting down at normal hours.
Tens of thousands had gathered along the route from Los Angeles International Airport to the science center. The journey, which comes after 25 mission flown by the NASA orbiter since 1992, began late Thursday night.
Saturday's journey started at about 9 a.m. after an overnight stopover in Inglewood.
Endeavour made a morning stop at one of LA’s most iconic landmarks, the Forum, where L.A. leaders, astronauts and others were among those taking part in a ceremony to mark the passing of the shuttle from Inglewood into LA.
Onlookers said they were there for the spectacle, and to see an important moment in LA and American history.
Robert Clay, tears welling, said: "This was really dramatic this morning. It's just so many people from all walks of life are here to witness this moment in history. It's still soaking in."
Much of the early part of the journey went smoothly, except for a couple of wrinkles when shuttle crews navigating the orbiter through the streets had to negotiate a couple of tight spots, once around a tree and another time around a power pole.
The shuttle had been expected to stop for a 2:30 p.m. event featured a troupe of dancers led by choreographer Debbie Allen at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards. Instead, the performance went on without Endeavour, and the shuttle was just getting to that area at about 7 p.m.
On Friday night, Endeavour was transferred off its four self-propelled trailers and put onto two dollies. The roughly 292,000-pound load was towed -- by a Toyota Tundra, in part to be videotaped for an advertisement -- across the Manchester Boulevard bridge spanning the San Diego (405) Freeway.
The move is expected to cost about $10 million.
City News Service contributed to this article.