ET did more than phone home Saturday. The arrival of the massive 154-foot-long space shuttle Endeavor fuel tank, called ET-94, generated a steady celebration along its route from Marina Del Rey to its new home at the California Science Center in South Los Angeles' Exposition Park.
Onlookers biked, walked and skateboarded alongside and behind the rust orange external tank, snapping photos and selfies while marveling at its size.
"It was intense," said Long Beach resident Lindsey Nelson. "It was simultaneously amazing and terrifying to watch the engineers use such precision getting the tank around such a tight corner and on a bridge."
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But beyond a reason to celebrate, the tank served as an inspiration for some of its new neighbors—a bridge to their dreams. Danielle Lathan has lived in South L.A. since 1969. She recalled a number of events that have served the community in one way or another—circuses, sporting and music events—you name it.
"But before the shuttle, we ain't never seen nothin' like this," Lathan said. Lathan stood with her husband and fellow community members at the corner of Bill Robertson Lane and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, looking up at the 65,000-pound tank just feet from her.
She recalled Endeavor's trek into South L.A. in Oct. 2012. She didn't see the shuttle but her son, then 12 years old, made his way out of the house with his then-6-year-old sister to join the festivities. Her children were not with her to see the external tank on Saturday; this time, she said, it was her turn to enjoy the view. But her kids were not far from her mind.
"Before this I used to wonder how kids could become astronauts," Lathan said. "But you see this and I get it. I really get it, and I'm so glad that we have this here to help them dream and be interested in science."
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Earlier in the day, California Science Center volunteer and high school junior Fernando Arzate stood on the sidewalk grinning as he passed out informational ET-94 fliers to spectators at Vermont Avenue and 43rd Street, as he gazed down the road toward the approaching icon.
"Being really interested in space and considering that aerospace engineering is something I am passionate about," the 17-year-old Arzate said. "This is something really cool to have going through my area."
He dreams of working in the aerospace industry. Arzate attends Alliance Renee & Meyer Luskin College-Ready Academy in Hyde Park, where he says teachers prepare and encourage him to pursue his goal of attending MIT and an engineering career. He's heard the industry is working on fully reusable space vehicles, and he's on board with the idea.
"If I work hard enough," Arzate said, "then I can get into college and in a couple years of that get an internship and my foot kind of in the door."
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As the tank approached one of its last major turns from Vermont Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a 4-year-old boy sat perched on a newspaper stand, sporting an astronaut outfit, his hands clasped around a model of Endeavor. Holding it up to match the alignment of the external tank, he responded to his mother's comment that the tank was bigger than the shuttle, "That's how it should be. Just like the real one."
After a 19-hour-long commute from Marina Del Rey, ET-94, alongside thousands of onlookers, arrived a few minutes early at its overnight resting space on the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History lawn at around 7p.m., just a few steps away from Endeavor's hangar.
ET-94 will be on display with space shuttle Endeavor at the California Science Center starting next week. Timed ticket reservations are needed unless seeing an IMAX film.
The Shuttle, its external fuel tank and two thrusters are slated to be displayed in 2019 as the only existing shuttle in launch configuration, or, 'fully-stacked,' in an upright position as if ready to launch.
Just 'how it should be'.