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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Prologue: Endeavour's Arrival and Staging at LAX

(September 21, 2012, Space Shuttle Endeavour arrives in Los Angeles in the grandeur of an epic Hollywood movie)

With the fanfare of a celebrity, Endeavour arrived in Los Angeles, September 21st, 2012, atop its 747 transport, complete with chase planes. That it marked the "final end" phase of NASA's 30-year Shuttle era, the homecoming took on a ceremonial aura akin to a Hollywood red carpet event -the Endeavour, as a de facto star on the walk of fame, had been lifted skyward for the millions of Angelenos below to admire in awe. The occasion was somewhat unbelievable if not fascinating. Throughout the day the Endeavour's flightpath and sighting opportunity was the most discussed thing. "Is it going to pass over our building?" "Where in the sky will it be?"-were the primary concerns, with people taking long lunch breaks to gather for the spectacle.

From a report on September 20th, 2012, the day prior to arrival:

"NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) with space shuttle Endeavour mounted atop [from Kennedy Space Center, Orlando, Florida] arrived Sept. 20 at the agency's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California [Edward's is northeast of Lancaster/Palmdale in the high desert].

Following an overnight stay, the SCA and Endeavour will salute the Edwards Air Force Base area early Friday, Sept. 21 with a low flyby northbound to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area. Next the aircraft will travel south, making a pass over NASA's Ames Research Center, Vandenberg Air Force Base and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory before heading into the Los Angeles area.

Finally, the SCA and Endeavour will land about noon PDT at Los Angeles International Airport, for an arrival ceremony before Endeavour is taken off the SCA and transported to 
its permanent home at the California Science Center next month." 

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX awaiting its final journey across Los Angeles to the California Science Center located several miles to the northeast, near the LA Coliseum. This photo and ones following below courtesy of  Cloud King,

A couple of days after I had written and posted it, I forwarded my first Endeavour article [whose link is at the bottom of this article] to a friend of mine who works in the aerospace industry as a flight engineer. He blogs under the user name "Cloud King," featuring his lush atmospheric photography, found here:

Cloud King's reply included a series of photographs he captured of Endeavour while it was staged at LAX. I answered "Omg wow. May I use these pics for a follow-up article? Was this at the hanger at LAX? Please tell more." 

He answered: "Yes that is the LAX hanger ... We used to lease the same hanger where the Shuttle was parked. There were tons of security at the hanger all packing guns. A call was made, we showed up and got in. When I walked in the hanger I was totally blown away, I was in "NERD HEAVEN" !!! At first they would only let us take photos only from the floor but when they they got full intel on who we were. they let us up stars to walk the cat walk around the Shuttle. I ended up going two days in a row so I got tons of photos."

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX; note the human scale as relative size comparison)

He further elaborated in response to my photographs of the Endeavour, specifically about rolling down Crenshaw Boulevard: "Looks like you were back on my old stoop Chad. I used to stay one block off the "Shaw". Glad to see the Shuttle made it through LA without slings and arrows. I took off out of LAX @ 0500 Fri and saw the Shuttle as it was leaving airport property. When we returned "eight hours" latter it was on SepĂșlveda! It was parked in a bank parking lot in Westchester. That's two to three miles an hour with stops. All of a sudden my feet are now hurting ..."

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX; note the human scale as relative size comparison)

Several excellent videos shot by amateurs and professionals captured the various moments and stages in the Endeavour's final journey. One particularly excellent one shot at LAX is posted here: 

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX)

below excerpt from:

From the hangar, on October 12, 2012, Endeavour "left the grounds of the Los Angeles International Airport and is now on city streets, heading east toward Inglewood.
The massive spacecraft, rolling at under 2 mph, left the airport at 2 a.m. exactly. "Right on time, it just cleared the gates," said airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles.
The weathered shuttle -- its blemishes easy to see -- took up two of the four lanes of the road as it rolled down Northside Parkway, and a handful of vehicles led the procession, including a truck that had a U.S. flag fluttering behind it.
At the first sight of Endeavour, scores of onlookers waiting patiently on city streets began running on Westchester Parkway, some with camera tripods in tow, snapping photos furiously. 
They had been waiting hours in the dark, some perched on top of car roofs, and others on ladders and step stools yearning, in the crisp autumn darkness, for their first glimpse of America's last space shuttle.
About 100 people whooped and hollered from the corner of Westchester Parkway and McConnell Avenue...

Over the next two days, the 170,000-pound shuttle is expected to travel at no more than 2 mph along the 12-mile route that includes Westchester Parkway, La Tijera Boulevard, Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The shuttle is moved by four computer-controlled transporters that will help it negotiate complex turns and avoid streetside obstacles.

At points along the way, the space vehicle will be inches away from buildings and protrude onto driveways and sidewalks. Because of the enormous weight of the shuttle, thousands of heavy steel plates have been used to reinforce city streets. En route, the public can see the shuttle on Friday at a number of public viewing areas along Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, including Isis, Hindry and Glasgow avenues as well as La Cienega Boulevard.

On Saturday, there will also be several designated public viewing areas, including the Forum in Inglewood, the intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and certain parking lots in Exposition Park."
My personal account of the Endeavour's cross-town travel is documented here:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Endeavoured to Join the Parade

(my first view of the Endeavour once I found it: looking south down Crenshaw Blvd as Space Shuttle creeps northbound en route to Exposition Park in south Los Angeles)

Deciding to brave the Los Angeles traffic and gathering throngs, I packed the Yamaha with snacks and a camera and set off on an afternoon journey across town as I endeavoured to join the parade --to see a one-off procession and final arrival of the Space Shuttle Endeavour

I recall years ago when I lived on the east coast, a college-era friend of mine and I drove down to Cape Canaveral, Florida (from Atlanta) on a spring break to witness the liftoff of Columbia. We parked and walked to a good viewing spot and beheld the gantry tower and familiar shape of the Shuttle's launch profile, with the tank and twin boosters looming in the distance across the water. 

I was excited to have finally made the pilgrimage to see a launch, anticipating the sound and visual spectacle, the shaking of the ground, as nothing can quite replace a live event personally attended. And it had become an American institution, a cultural mainstay, and something I casually assumed I would indeed see in my lifetime. It was too common of an occurrence to not see it, the Space Shuttle being a household name. At the viewing area, my adrenaline raced as the clock was already in progress, ticking down to less and less minutes to go. 

When it got down to about T-minus 25 seconds the clock stopped. And that was it. We hung around for about a half an hour longer until it was announced that the launch had been scrubbed, a weather-related issue. As it came to pass, the date of the new launch was set beyond the time we were to be in the area, and I was never to see it again: In the intervening time, as the years got on by, "life happened" and things just never led back to the Cape. It has been nearly twenty years since that time, but today, finally, I would not pass up the last opportunity to personally see the Shuttle in motion. 

(on the sidelines of Crenshaw Blvd as Space Shuttle Endeavour creeps northbound en route to Exposition Park in south Los Angeles)

Leaving in the early afternoon, about 2pm, it would take me at least an hour to get to the shuttle's present but slowly moving location as it was in south Los Angeles, south of downtown. Endeavour's last destination, Exposition Park, where the California Science Center, LA Coliseum, USC, and LA County Museum of Natural History are located, would be no casual jaunt over the hills. This became a mission. 

The choice to take my Yamaha Zuma 125 alleviated what would have been easily a 2 or 3 hour car ride with the event traffic. And the solo trek, with helmet and gloves, made the event all the more eventful. The open roads across LA's environs proved a wonderful excursion of its own as I became a sort of Saturday sightseer in my own city. The Saturday traffic was generally light on the surface streets compared to a weekday, and the autumn energy infused the journey with a pleasant feeling of being alive, something already amounting to a warm recollection.

On the road, my small motorbike left far behind whatever occasional bottlenecks that happened to gather, lane-splitting my way through the changing landscapes and localities of LA. Beginning from the literal foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in the northeast corner of the San Fernando Valley, I set out traveling southwest through North Hollywood, down and over the Santa Monica Mountains through Laurel Canyon in Studio City, taking a right onto Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, a left down the steep La Cienega incline into the basin, past the Beverly Center and Larry Flint building, crossing southbound over Wilshire, Olympic, Pico, Venice Boulevard, all the way on down past Blackwelder into Culver City -then to a sharp left/east onto Rodeo to MLK Jr Boulevard. The city miles had dropped away and my beeline traverse passed sooner than I thought. But the work had only begun. 

Once in the immediate vicinity, evidence of Endeavour's presence started becoming apparent. I felt it. In the otherwise quiet neighborhoods along Rodeo in Baldwin Hills, occasional people in groups began dotting the sidewalks, all walking in a common direction. Police cruisers would come and go, becoming a frequently seen type of car. The outskirts of the event looked like people arriving to an outdoor concert venue. Traffic cops and barriers came into view, and the first rerouting of my line of travel happened: Once on MLK ("King Boulevard"), I went only a short distance and found I could not directly go to find Endeavor on its northerly path up Crenshaw Boulevard. That road and many before it, leading to it, were blocked off. This forced the rest of the way into becoming a perpetual redirection and intuitive navigation. 

(on the sidelines of Crenshaw Blvd as Space Shuttle Endeavour creeps northbound en route to Exposition Park in south Los Angeles)

Having no idea of its actual specific location, I knew of Endeavour's general itinerary based upon news reports of where it would be at certain times. And now I was there in the vicinity so close. Indeed, something much larger than the circus had come to town, as I had never seen so many people walking in LA at the same time. Getting ever closer, motoring down parallel streets proximal to MLK en route to Crenshaw, I would have to just find the spacecraft -searching for a lost ship in the urban grid, over oceans of avenues through seas of people. 

On the Yamaha I whizzed in, out, through, and past columns of cars. The buzz of the proceedings charged the town alive while navigating through chains of suddenly appearing barricades, police cars, fire trucks, sirens, crawling traffic, numerous detours, and walls of humanity. By the location of the sun over the city grid, I pressed on, heading generally southeast. The near-distant downtown skyline and mountains became crystal clear sunny landmarks in the lush density. In a lucid moment, LA's beauty confronted me gently, a town that cannot be fully discovered. Reduced to a standstill the streets became parking lots as I scooted past the labyrinthine immensity, in between cars and buses and people walking everywhere. 

Pulling up next to a man in a silver car with his window down, I said hello through my helmet and asked him, naively, "So are you going to see the Space Shuttle?" The jovial Luciano Pavarotti-looking fellow said "I hope so. I just got back into town and I'm telling my wife I'm going to see it" as he texted something on his phone. We said a few more things before I pressed on and bid him good afternoon with a thumbs up. What a great impression, this conversation with a stranger that had the feeling of normalcy and familiarity, mentioning his wife and his trip back into town. And thus became revealed the tone for the whole experience from beginning to end: A friendly humanity enjoyed the afternoon (if not with many of them stuck in their cars), convened and enjoined in a common curiosity. There was no hate. There was no fear. 

 (the left wing of Endeavor passes right overhead; looking more closely the serial numbers on the tiles can be seen)

Everyone I encountered, from bumping into them in close quarters to asking for information from the police -all of it was among some of the nicest mass-interactions between crowds of people I have ever seen. The people heeded the rules and the barricades, respected the miles of yellow streamer tapes, and everyone got along in harmony. The sheer bewilderment to the sight of the Space Shuttle traveling through Los Angeles appeared to have surmounted any other personal concerns, at least temporarily, that the spectators each individually must have had. Every mood was good. Everyone was kind. 

Society itself was on parade: Every age, race, and gender flooded the streets for miles. Among this I could hear different languages being spoken, some of which were clearly from tourists, those from abroad who were able to make the long journey. Certainly, something like this would never be seen again. And everyone knew it. 

(a small sampling of the gigantic showing of people in south Los Angeles to witness the final journey of Space Shuttle Endeavor)

After asking a couple of police officers about where the Endeavour was along the boulevard, I zig-zagged my way closer and closer on the bike until I came upon that special moment: Knowing I must have been upon the site, I glanced to my left as I went through a particular intersection (crossing over Crenshaw) being directed by a traffic cop, and then saw it: My first view is posted herein as the first photograph of the article, but I will include another shot of it just below here: 

(another moment of my first view of the Endeavour once I found it: looking south down Crenshaw Blvd as Space Shuttle Endeavour creeps northbound en route to Exposition Park in south Los Angeles)

Looking down the street I did a brief double-take: I gasped when I saw it. OMG, there it is down the street. The suddenness of my feelings of surprise and elation overtook me, being something that could not ever be faked or simulated. It just came out like that and I grinned so widely that it wrapped around my head. Because the sight was so strange and different, it could not have been prepared for. That alone was the priceless reward of the trip but there was more to come as it grew nearer and nearer. Something like this, a unique live event involving the people of our time, is something one must do personally and live, immersed in the unadulterated present moment in order to completely understand. Today the most jaded man or woman would have melted and succumbed. Every man was a kid, every woman a girl. 

(Endeavour's engine outlets, to never flow fire through them again, mark the presence of the the majestic space plane as it passes gently among the people lining the streets to its final home at the California Science Center)

As its beautiful industrial fuselage crept closer and closer, the surreal spectacle revealed the battle-scarred and pockmarked Endeavour gliding along the boulevard -a gentle giant celebrity representing layers of various meanings and memories to generations of the public. The imposing and incongruous sight of it created the sensation of being inside of a movie that was real, if not laced in the tacit acceptance that it could all be a dream anyway, a sort of mind-fuck du jour

In quick reminiscence as I finally parked and dismounted the scooter, to mingling into the peaceful crowds, I had been able to see NASA's shuttle program come and go: from first televised launch of Columbia (when they were still painting the main fuel tank white), "America's first Space Shuttle," to the final procession of the last one built, the 5th and last, the Endeavour -replacement to the tragic Challenger

(full shot of Endeavour farther up along Crenshaw Boulevard, heading northerly)

I took pictures until the camera was out of memory space, having lost some great shots towards the end of my visit due to lack of space. One in particular that I regret not getting was upon my final moments at the event, packing up my scooter, getting ready to leave: I saw the shuttle's tailfin pass over and behind the roof of a "Louisiana Chicken" restaurant, appearing like a dorsal fin in the movie Airplane! At least I have that moment in my own memory, something I will never forget. 

Regardless of the corporate interests and geopolitical scandals that influence our world daily, some of which were and are undoubtedly responsible for having given rise and fall to the Space Shuttle program itself -none of that seemed to matter for a while. Wonder and innocent fascination ruled the day. And despite the heavily organized police and rescue forces on display, the parade of the Space Shuttle Endeavour was the largest unguarded moment I have ever been part of.