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Space shuttle Endeavour: A final 2 m.p.h. mission through Los Angeles

The space shuttle Endeavour began its 2-mph crawl through streets of Los Angeles at about 2 a.m. Friday. A retired laser scientist uses Endeavour's terrestrial crawl as a teaching moment for Los Angeles school children.

By Alicia ChangAssociated Press / October 12, 2012

Crews look at the space shuttle Endeavour as it leaves Los Angeles International Airport and is transported on city streets to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif. October 12, 2012.

REUTERS/Jason Redmond

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Los Angeles

The space shuttle Endeavor is making its final journey to a Los Angeles museum.

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The giant spacecraft began its 2-mph crawl through streets near Los Angeles International Airport at about 2 a.m. Friday. Crowds in the neighborhood lined the streets to watch it being hauled past. Some called it a once-in-a-lifetime sight.

About 400 trees and many traffic lights were taken down to make room for the five-story-tall shuttle with its 78-foot wingspan.

The shuttle's 160-wheeled carrier stopped briefly so that crews could prune more trees. The shuttle will go 3 miles and then stop for nine hours to prepare for a final 9-mile roll the California Science Center.

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As the space shuttle Endeavour weaves through working-class communities on its way to its retirement home, Hildreth "Hal" Walker Jr. wants the children he tutors to remember a few names: Ronald McNair. Mae Jemison. Charles Bolden.

A retired laser scientist who had a role in the Apollo 11 mission, Walker took the opportunity of the two-day terrestrial crawl through predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles County to highlight the role that minorities played in the shuttle program.

"We really have a job to do to show them the accomplishments of the people whose shoulders they're standing on," Walker said.

Soon after Endeavour's aerial tour around California landmarks, Walker, who runs an after-school tutoring center in the suburb of Inglewood, gave a lecture at the public library where he ticked off the prominent figures in the program.

McNair was the second African-American in space and died in the Challenger tragedy. Jemison rode aboard Endeavour as the first African-American female astronaut. Bolden is the current NASA chief and the first black to hold the position.

Endeavour remained parked at the Los Angeles International Airport since Sept. 21 after crowd-pleasing swoops over the state Capitol, Golden State Bridge, Hollywood Sign and other landmarks.

Early Friday morning, the shuttle began its last "mission" — a 12-mile creep through city streets. It will move past an eclectic mix of strip malls, mom-and-pop shops, tidy lawns and faded apartment buildings.

Its final destination: California Science Center in South Los Angeles where it will be put on display.

Seizing on a teaching moment, some schools along the route have folded the historic move into their lessons, hoping to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and math — fields where blacks and Latinos have been underrepresented.

At the Wish Charter Elementary School near LAX, kindergarteners to sixth graders spent the days leading up to Endeavour's terrestrial journey learning about the shuttle's different components — nose cone, heat tiles, fuselage.

On Friday, students planned to walk across the street to a parking lot where Endeavour will temporarily rest after leaving LAX.

Armed with American flags and index cards depicting the shuttle, students planned a "scavenger hunt" — identifying the various shuttle parts and marking them off on their cards.

"It's thrilling to have this pop up right here in our neighborhood," said principal Shawna Draxton.

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