SPACE SHUTTLE ENDEAVOUR began its final journey today, at the less-than rocket-propelled speed of two miles per hour, in a meticulously planned trip through the streets of Los Angeles.
Some 400 trees have had to be cut down – provoking mild protests from locals – and power lines turned off to make way for the 78-ton vehicle on the two-day, 12-mile journey to California Science Center.
The shuttle, which flew more than 115 million miles (185 million kilometres) in its two-decade career, landed at LA international (LAX) airport three weeks ago piggy-backed on a specially-fitted 747.
Since then it has been in an airport hangar. But it was rolled out overnight for its final journey, which risked causing traffic chaos before it reaches its destination late Saturday.
The shuttle is mounted on a high-tech flatbed carrier for the trip, which at certain points will involve squeezing round corners within inches of buildings.
“We’re off to a great start,” said Science Center head Jeffrey Rudolph as the shuttle stood for several hours in a parking lot, before starting the journey proper.
“Everything is really going according to plan, exactly as we hoped for. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but this is an incredibly complex move – lots of people working on it – and we really appreciate it,” he added.
After the space agency NASA brought an end to the 30-year shuttle programme last year, major US cities battled for the right to house one of the craft.
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 on re-entry to Earth in 2003. Both disasters killed everyone on board.
One of our readers, a Aoibheann Hughes originally from Castleblaney in county Monaghan who now lives in Texas, sent us this image of herself getting up close and personal with the shuttle while it stopped over at Ellington Field airport in Houston. “It was such an amazing experience so I thought I’d share it with you for the craic!” she said, adding, “We were very lucky to get on it, since only a very select few, mostly important Nasa types were allowed near it. The Irish accent works wonders!” Thanks Aoibheann.