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A retired space shuttle hitches a ride

Space shuttle Endeavour hitches a ride to the retirement home

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Illustration James Provost

Scientists go to great lengths to inspire the next generation, including mounting some pretty unwieldy artifacts (think dinosaur skeletons) in museum entrance halls. The latest of these displays is set to top them all: the recently decommissioned Endeavour, one of three space shuttles now transitioning from active astronaut-carriers to awe-inspiring exhibits.

Over the next two months, Endeavour will be installed in its new home, the California Science Center—and, as you might expect, getting a 122-foot-long spacecraft to Los Angeles from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center comes with a few challenges. Here’s how they’ll do it.

1. “The shuttle has a number of toxic materials in it—rocket fuel, for instance—and hatches that have explosives,” says Jeff Rudolph, president of the California Science Center. These have to be removed by NASA staff before Endeavour will be safe for the public to visit. NASA will also pull out the toilets and galleys—as it does after every space mission—for a separate display.

2. A “mate-demate device” is a special machine used to place the shuttle on the back of the modified Boeing 747 that will transport it across the country. Such a device would also be used to remove the shuttle after the trip is complete, but there’s just one problem: LAX doesn’t have one. So engineers there plan to erect a number of large cranes to take Endeavour off the 747.

3. Once on wheels, the 122-by-78-by-57-foot Endeavour has to travel 6 miles to the museum. This requires the temporary removal of most power lines and traffic signals, two engineering firms to plan the route and one person to “drive” the four mobile transporters that carry the shuttle. The pressure will be on. “We expect to see thousands of people lining the road to watch,” Rudolph says.

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