LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11) - On May 7, 1992, the space shuttle Endeavour lifted off for its maiden voyage. In the capsule, 5 astronauts on a mission to return a major communications satellite -- the Intelsat 6.
Endeavour, named by school children in a contest, was born from disaster. The shuttle was built to replace 'Challenger,' which in 1986, tragically exploded in the sky killing its crew.
Little did anyone know back then that the future of this great spacecraft would be to help educate children at the California Science Center in Los Angeles' Exposition Park.
On September 21, 2012 LA got a most unusual parade as a result.
First, there was the flyover of famous landmarks like the Hollywood Sign. Then, after landing, the trip from LAX to Exposition Park. Bringing a giant spacecraft to a children's science center over city streets was a monumental effort.
The idea was the vision of Ken Phillips, the center's aerospace curator. This is a man who wanted to be an astronaut.
"I did very much want to be an astronaut. I applied for the program twice," said Phillips.
That didn't happen, but bringing a spacecraft to where he worked was doable -- and, he did it!
Once a deal was struck the work to map out a route and create a plan for bringing the big space plane to LA got underway. It took a long time to get to the point that Endeavour would make her famous California-wide flyby.
"About 2 a.m., on October 12th we snuck out of the hangar that United Airlines provided for us - big kudos to them. We couldn't have done it without them. And, we came out from the LA Airport and headed out to the city...nail biting all the time. It was great," said Phillips.
The nail-biting was because, as Dr. K puts it, there was no playbook for this. It had never been done before. They prepared the city, removed trees, and put down metal plates to protect the street. They started out thinking they were going to pull off this trip from LAX to the California Science Center in two days.
What shocked Phillips "was the level of interest in moving the spacecraft."
People went to great lengths to see Endeavour. The streets were lined with spectators.
The wings were an issue. Seventy-eight feet from wing tip to wing tip. LA was lucky to have roads wide enough to accommodate them. It took a year to plan the route and make sure they were able to navigate the widest streets -- streets that had the least grade changes.
But, some worried to make all of this work more trees than necessary would be removed. They removed 389 trees. Some TSA wanted removed from the airport area anyway. Along Manchester, they made a deal to replace two trees for every one they had to remove
Phillips says, "There were about 400... 389 trees or something like that we removed. About 80 of those were trees we really regretted moving, but we had to do it."
Some utility poles and wires had to be temporarily relocated. Once the show got on the road the audience cheered.
"I found the support was amazing. I found it was a time when the city was really together in the moment. The diversity in LA was so thick. It was really palpable... all generations," said Phillips.
When Endeavour finally got to Exposition Park and the California Science Center, it had traveled 68 hours, over 12 miles, at about 2/10ths of a mile an hour. But, even at that slow speed, it left an indelible mark on the city's history.
In 2012, LA's newest resident - a space plane - took up its new digs at the California Science Center. An iconic vehicle that flew some 25 missions,123 million miles give or take, almost 4,600 orbits and now in a huge hangar playing out one of its greatest missions -- teaching us earthlings about what it did in space and how it did it.