On September 20th, the 26th and final mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour will be a perilous journey to that most strange region of space, Los Angeles.
Yesterday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph held a press conference announcing the route and plans to get the spaceship from where it will land at LAX, through 12 miles of LA streets, and into the museum.
They're going to do it with four huge remote-control cars over 32 hours of driving, all overseen by a guy who once rolled a Citroën 2CV. It's going to be amazing.
The guy who once rolled that Deux Chaveau is Ken Carrion. As we were discussing the way the Shuttle's transport system will be able to adjust its height hydraulically, I was reminded of Citröen's hydropneumatic suspension system, and asked if it was in any way related. He said no, but did tell me that many years ago, while stationed in Germany, he and a Citröen 2CV-full of drunk army buddies actually managed to roll the car. Now, anyone who knows anything about 2CVs and their absurdly soft suspensions will tell you that's no easy feat. Based on this alone, I'd say this guy is just the man for a big insane job like this.
Which is good, because he's overseeing the trickiest part of the whole Endeavour endeavour: getting a 58 foot high, 78 foot wide Orbiter through urban streets. What's really incredible is that, in many ways, this is a normal day of work for him.
Carrion works for Sarens, a company that routinely moves colossal things. In fact, the 200,000 lb orbiter will only be taxing 22% of the weight-hauling capacity of the rig they're planning to use. The urban environment is the big tricky part here, but they seem to have that covered— even if there are sections where there will be less than 6" of clearance.
The shuttle-hauling rig itself is pretty amazing. Up to LAX, Endeavour will be transported on the back of a 747, as usual. Once hoisted off the plane, the Shuttle will be placed on a familiar piece of NASA property, donated for this job: the Space Shuttle Overland Strongback Transporter. Originally used to transport the Orbiters from the assembly facility in Palmdale to the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, this vast trailer has previously only known a short, mostly desert-area commute. NASA usually hauled it on the mostly straight shot with a conventional truck rig. For transport through LA, something more exotic is planned.
Saren will be using NASA's overland transporter with four remote-controlled traction units called Self Propelled Modular Trailers (SPMTs). These are basically a huge diesel engine mounted on a stubby hydraulically-liftable chassis, with a little computer brain. The four units will be working together to haul the spaceship, and will all be controlled by one guy, walking around with a joystick. Really, that's how it works. The controls are wireless, so as this huge assembly creeps along at 1-2 mph, the operator will be walking all around it, making sure everything's okay.
Each SPMT can move independently, and can spin 360° on its own axis, allowing for very complex maneuvers. At three points in the trip, the entire assembly will stop and be reconfigured from a narrower setup to a taller, wider, median-spanning design to allow transit down multiple lanes with a central median.
In addition to the burly robots dragging the Shuttle, there's lots of preparation involved in the route itself, which had to be selected to avoid bridges and overhead structures. Power lines and street signs are being moved, and 212 traffic lights will be removed.While some trees will have to be cut down or trimmed, the Mayor has said for each tree removed, two new ones will be planted.
Once the Shuttle makes it to the California Science Center, it'll have a nice big warehouse to wait in while a new, purpose-built building is constructed. Visitors will be able to visit the Shuttle even in its temporary home, and while the interior won't be accessible, some of the good stuff will be removed and placed where the public can see it, like the entire mid-deck, with the actual equipment like lockers, the galley, and, yes, the space toilet.
Oh, and speaking of toilets, Jalopnik has confirmed that a porta-potty will be following Endeavour throughout her 32 hour tour of Los Angeles.
For those interested, the planned route is this:
• LAX United Hangar to Lincoln Blvd.
• Cross Lincoln, right onto Wastchester Parkway
• Left onto La Tijera Blvd. to Manchester Ave.
• Right on Manchester to Crenshaw Dr.
• Left on Crenshaw Drive to Crenshaw Blvd.
• Continue to Martin Luther King Blvd.
• Right on MLK to Bill Robertson Lane
... and then into the California Science Center.