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Space shuttle Endeavour starts road trip to new Los Angeles home

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LOS ANGELES, Oct 12 (Reuters) - The retired space shuttleEndeavour sets off on Friday for a road trip unlike any of itsprevious journeys, one that will see it crawl through thestreets of Los Angeles instead of hurtling through the solitaryreaches of space.

Endeavour will nose out of Los Angeles International Airportwell before dawn as it begins a two-day ground journey atop amassive wheeled transporter to its final resting place at theCalifornia Science Center on the edge of downtown.

"It's a national treasure; this is something that we allpaid for with our taxes," Ken Phillips, aerospace curator at thescience center, said of the hulking craft that flew from 1992 to2011 and will go on public display later this month.

He described the shuttle, which was largely built inSouthern California, as a workhorse for the American spaceprogram and said it represented "the very best, I think, of whatpeople can do when they decide to cooperate and do good things."

The science center beat out a number of other institutionswhen NASA chose it as the permanent home for the 80-ton wingedspaceship, which was taken out of service due to the historicend of the NASA shuttle program that began with a launch in1981.

Endeavour hop-scotched across the country from CapeCanaveral, Florida, on the back of a modified Boeing 747. It wasparked at the airport after arriving on Sept. 21 following aceremonial piggyback flight around California during whichspectators on the ground cheered and wept.

Workers have felled 400 curbside trees along Endeavour's12-mile (19-km) route to clear its way. The science center willplant more than 1,000 trees to make up for their removal.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said that whenEndeavour flew over the city last month, she and her colleaguesran up to the roof of City Hall where they watched it with tearsin their eyes.

STAR AT A RALLY

Perry said she remained apprehensive about the road journey,when she said Endeavour will pass through intersections with aslittle as 6 inches (15 cm) of clearance. She also anticipateslarge crowds along the way.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the spaceshuttle come down your neighborhood street," Perry said. "Howoften does that happen?"

Los Angeles police were closing streets along the plannedroute for what organizers are calling "Mission 26," in referenceto the shuttle's 25 previous missions into space.

Soon after rolling out of the airport, the shuttle will passthrough the nearby city of Inglewood where on Saturday morningit will be the star in a massive rally outside an arena wherethe Los Angeles Lakers basketball team once played.

Later that day, it will stop at a shopping mall in South LosAngeles where officials will speak and a dance academy startedby "Fame" actress Debbie Allen will perform.

Once it arrives at the science center, it will be displayedin a temporary, hangar-style metal structure to protect it fromthe elements. In 2017, a special pavilion will open in whichEndeavour will stand vertically, Phillips said.

The other remaining spaceships from the shuttle programhave also found homes. The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., hasDiscovery at its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center museum in Virginia,New York City has the prototype shuttle Enterprise at itsIntrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, and the Kennedy Space Centerin Cape Canaveral in Florida has Atlantis, whi ch the center willmove to an on-site visitor complex next month.

"We have enjoyed the space shuttles, at least working hereat NASA, and it's time now to let the public enjoy seeing theshuttle first-hand, getting an up-close look at it," NASAspokeswoman Lisa Malone said.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Cynthia Johnston andEric Walsh)

((alex.dobuzinskis@thomsonreuters.com))

Keywords: SPACE SHUTTLE/