Photo Courtesy of Cordoba Corp.
A retired spacecraft navigated the streets of Los Angeles safely thanks to extensive engineering preparation.


A space shuttle's painstaking, earthbound journey through the streets of Los Angeles to its final destination required 18 months of advanced engineering to minimize the impact on a busy urban infrastructure corridor. The 122-ft-long, 78-ft-wide, 58-ft-high Endeavour began its 12-mile trip from Los Angeles International Airport at dawn on Oct. 12 and arrived at the California Science Center by 11 a.m. on Oct. 14.

According to the science center, the move cost about $10 million, including felling about 400 trees, temporarily dislocating numerous traffic lights and overhead wires, and installing some 2,000 temporary steel plates on the route. But Cordoba Corp., which coordinated the efforts of a team of engineers along with the utility companies and city officials, performed the work pro bono, says George Pla, its chief executive officer and a board trustee of the science center.

"The very first thing we did was perform a three-dimensional scan of the route," says Roberto Ramirez, Cordoba senior project manager. "We had an 80-ft horizontal buffer zone and a 60-ft vertical buffer zone. Our challenge was finding the centerline path for the shuttle. That took several iterations."

When needed, the 170,000-lb shuttle shifted from the center of the street to avoid by inches trees, buildings, power lines and curbs, traveling on a set of self-propelled modular transporters supplied by Sarens Group. To save time, SPMTs frequently are used to roll preconstructed highway overpasses into place by state transportation departments (ENR 3/13/06 p. 24).

Each of the four space-shuttle SPMTs had 20 axles, each with eight tires, says Angel Alvarez, a Cordoba senior technical advisor. Along with distributing the load to avoid road damage, "the advantage of SPMTs was that they have a sophisticated hydraulic system," he says. "All four units were synchronized by a single joystick."

The shuttle was transferred temporarily onto a separate set of dollies to cross the Interstate 405 freeway before resuming its ride on the SPMTs. As it progressed, crews followed behind, reinstalling traffic signals and power wires and removing the steel plates.

The move ended up about a day behind schedule. "The transport had to constantly go around obstacles, which we anticipated," says Alvarez. "But with the large crowds, that really impeded the access of support vehicles."

A $200-million fund-raising campaign covered the cost of the trip. The program includes a 200,000-sq-ft expansion for the shuttle's permanent home in 2017, according to the science center's website.