LOS ANGELES — It’s a surreal sight residents won’t soon forget: A hulking space shuttle strutting down city streets, pausing every so often to get its bearings as it creeps toward retirement.
Endeavour’s terrestrial journey began before dawn Friday when it departed from the Los Angeles International Airport, rolling on a 160-wheeled carrier past diamond-shaped “Shuttle Xing” signs.
Hundreds of camera-toting spectators, some with pajama-clad children in tow, gaped as the 170,000-pound Endeavour inched by with its tail towering over streetlights and its wings spanning the roadway.
Over two days, it will trundle 12 miles at a top speed of 2 mph to its final destination — the California Science Center where it will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit.
After an initial bumpy ride and a brief delay, the shuttle pulled off a massive feat of parallel parking by backing into a shopping center parking lot for a layover as crowds cheered on.
“This is unlike anything we’ve ever moved before,” said Jim Hennessy, a spokesman for Sarens, the contract mover.
Spectators flocked to the parking lot in the Westchester neighborhood to get a glimpse of Endeavour, which was guarded by an entourage of police, private security and construction crews.
Janet Dion, a family therapist from nearby Manhattan Beach, marveled at the shuttle, its exterior weathered by millions of miles in space and two dozen re-entries.
“You can sense the magnitude of where it’s been,” Dion said, fixated on the heat tiles that protected the shuttle during the return to Earth.
James Nieuwdorp, a technician for a transit agency, saw Endeavour’s aerial victory lap around California last month and traveled to see it again before it becomes a museum piece.
He enjoyed how the shuttle brought strangers together. There was “lot of camaraderie — something that’s hard to be seen these days,” he said.