Inside the complexities of Endeavour's final journey through L.A.
(CBS News) The Space Shuttle Endeavour flew nearly 123 million miles in orbit, traveling more than 17,000 miles per hour. But Endeavour's final trip is going a lot more slowly.
The shuttle is doing something it's really not designed to do -- travel through the streets of Los Angeles. It's going to take two days to get from Los Angeles International Airport to its new home at the California Science Center near downtown. And while it may not be the shuttle's riskiest mission, it's certainly one of its most complicated endeavors ever.
After Endeavour landed in Los Angeles three weeks ago, it was plucked from its carrier, propped on a steel beam support and pushed into a huge hangar in a delicate, time-consuming process. It was all in preparation for its last and wildest ride.
Gordon Lofts, one of the six operators driving the fragile behemoth through the streets of Los Angeles, told CBS News he's been stressing about this job. The effort is managed not with a steering wheel, but with joysticks.
Operators walk beside Endeavour - top speed two miles per hour - maneuvering over freeways, down boulevards, through residential neighborhoods, with some spots narrower than Endeavour's wingspan. Lofts said that's managed by turning the transporter into a diagonal position. The transporters' wheels move in all directions, and operators can turn on a dime.
Lofts said, "It is an engineering marvel."
The whole process is a marvel of cooperation and coordination between the Science Center, two cities, and more than a dozen public agencies. Nearly 400 trees were cut down, and 100 traffic signals will come down.
Larry Bickett, of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, explained the traffic signals will be laid on the ground and hopefully within an hour after the shuttle passes by, a crew will put them back up.
Streets are being bolstered with 2,700 metal plates. Michael Volchok, president of Encon Construction, explained, "The weight of the orbiter and transporter is roughly 375,000 pounds, so we're laying the plates on the ground to protect the streets from deflecting and cracking the pipes underneath."
Power lines are being raised so the five-story tail can pass by and not interrupt power for residents, Jim Mayer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said. "We don't have to have outages the day the shuttle comes through," he said.
Still, merchants along the route, like Ron Weintraub, of Randy's Donuts, are closing anyway. He welcomed the shuttle, but says all the commotion is scaring customers away. "Who's gonna buy donuts?" he said. "Both streets are closed and you can't go on the sidewalks."
Endeavour is traveling with a huge entourage of its operators, the Los Angeles Police Department, SWAT team, bomb squad and utility crews. The shuttle is expected to be at its new home in the Science Center late Saturday night.
Watch Bill Whitaker's full report in the video above.
- Boston bombings suspect left note in boat he hid in
- Watch: Deer crashes through windshield of bus
- Mark Harmon: Humor and characters make "NCIS" a hit
- American engineer's death suicide or cyber-espionage?
- Geist: Parkinson's revelation "very difficult"
- Incurable bacteria destroying Fla. citrus industry
- Vegan firefighter on his "Beef With Meat"
- Emmy-winner Jim Parsons on his "Big Bang" success
- THE Dish: Chef Jet Tila's drunken noodles
- Identity of mystery man in Bill Gates photo revealed
- Amy Grant on success and the inspiration for her music
- What's for lunch? In Japanese schools it's always healthy
- Russia offers more evidence in alleged CIA spy case
- Tim McGraw on aging, getting in shape and his favorite song
- Predicting weather: National Weather Service gets a boost
- U.K. casino accuses U.S. poker champ of cheating