The space shuttle Endeavour always had plenty of elbow room while soaring around Earth, but to make way for its slow 19km journey through city streets next month to its final destination at a Los Angeles museum, some trees must fall.
Clearing an unobstructed route for the retired spaceship to take from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center will require cutting down nearly 400 trees in all and the temporary removal of hundreds of utility poles, street lights and traffic signals, officials say.
The science center, which is organizing the two-day move, promises to plant 1,000 new trees in place of those taken down. It also has vowed to keep traffic problems to a minimum and avoid disruption of electricity and other utility services.
“It’s quite an endeavor,” science center president Jeffrey Rudolph said of the project.
He said planning began the day after his museum was chosen in April last year as one of four permanent venues for NASA’s newly decommissioned space shuttles.
Nothing like it has ever been moved through city streets.
The 75-tonne spaceship stretches 37m in length, measures 24m from wingtip to wingtip and stands more than five stories tall, lying on its belly on a special rolling platform that is to carry it at an average speed of 1.6kph.
The transport vehicle — which can turn at sharp angles — is “driven” via remote control by an operator who walks beside it, Rudolph said. The work is estimated to cost about US$10 million and is being paid for through donations.
“This is a national treasure,” he said. “It’s not just moving something through the streets. It’s moving something that will inspire children and adults of all ages.”
Added to the shuttle fleet after the Challenger spacecraft was destroyed by an accidental explosion that killed seven astronauts in 1986, Endeavour has flown 25 missions and logged nearly 198 million kilometers in flight during 4,671 orbits.
Its impending arrival has generated much public anticipation, but tree-removal plans sparked opposition by many residents in neighborhoods through which the Endeavour is to pass.
Rudolph said the museum has taken pains to limit arboreal impacts as much as possible to smaller or sickly trees, those considered invasive species and those likely to be removed later because of sidewalk damage or future light-rail construction. More than a quarter of them are on airport property.
“We believe we’ll leave the neighborhoods with far more trees and healthier trees,” he said.
Endeavour was scheduled to travel piggyback on top of a specially modified 747 jet plane en route from Florida to California this week, but its departure from the Kennedy Space Center for the first leg of its final flight was delayed until yesterday due to bad weather.