MARINA DEL REY (CNS) - With a send-off that included a jazz bank and a group of well wishers waving goodbye, ET-94 -- the 65,000-pound external space shuttle fuel tank -- began its long, slow journey over city streets to its final resting place at the California Science Center in Exposition Park early Saturday morning.
The tank left its temporary home in Marina del Rey between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. By 3:40 a.m., the tank was turning onto Culver Boulevard. By 8 a.m. it had made its way to Inglewood, stopping occasionally for crews to move power lines or temporarily remove traffic lights to accommodate the extra-wide load.
It will take about 18 hours to make the 5-mph journey from Marina del Rey to Exposition Park, putting the arrival time at the Science Center around 9 p.m. tonight.
Well-wishers who walked behind and alongside the fuel tank included Paula Madison, a member of the California Science Center Foundation Board of Trustees, astronaut Drew Feustel who flew on Endeavour's last mission in 2011 and Lynda Oschin, chair of the Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oschin Family Foundation, the Los Angeles Times reported. ET-94 will be permanently displayed along with the shuttle Endeavour in the Sanuel Oschin Air and Space Center.
Astronaut Rick Searfoss, who flew three missions on the shuttle, commanding one flight and serving as pilot on two others, said seeing the fuel tank brought back "great memories" for him.
"What comes to my mind are all the great people I worked with down at the Cape (Canaveral) and the Johnson Space Center. To see the hardware really reminds me of the people and what was a fantastic program that the Science Center has the vision to preserve for posterity," Searfoss told ABC-7.
"To see a shuttle stack in the vertical is truly awe-inspiring and they'll (visitors) have the opportunity when we finally get it up in the vertical on permanent display to see a piece of history in a way that I never envisioned would be possible when we ended the program."
Preparations for the fuel tank's journey snarled traffic throughout the Marina Del Rey area because of street closures connected to the operation.
Northbound Lincoln Boulevard was closed and all vehicles were directed by traffic officers onto eastbound Culver Boulevard. The end of the westbound Marina (90) Freeway was backed up for about a mile. Other streets in the Marina area were also jammed.
Most intersections on northbound Lincoln Boulevard leaving Los Angeles International Airport had flashing red lights as officers directed traffic. Helicopters hovered overhead.
The caravan was scheduled to travel down Lincoln and Culver boulevards to Westchester Parkway, then through Inglewood on Arbor Vitae Street to La Brea Avenue, past the Forum, and north on Vermont Avenue to the museum.
The shuttle Endeavour made a similar trip through the city in October 2012, attracting thousands of spectators lining streets from Los Angeles International Airport to Exposition Park.
The tank, the only major, non-reusable part of the space shuttle, is neither as wide as Endeavour, nor as high, although it is longer. Because of its size, fewer utilities will be affected and no trees will be removed along the route from the coast to Exposition Park, as was the case when Endeavour was hauled to its new home in 2012.
The 16.5-mile path ET-94 will take through the streets was planned with input from city officials, utilities and community groups.
The massive orange tank began its journey to Los Angeles on April 10, when it was pulled out of NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. Two days later, it was tugged into the Gulf of Mexico to begin a voyage that took it through the Panama Canal.
The sea journey made some headlines last week, when the crew of the tugboat pulling ET-94 helped rescue four people who had to abandon a sinking sportfishing boat off the coast of Baja California.
ET-94 is NASA's last remaining shuttle external tank. Unlike the solid rocket boosters and the shuttles themselves, the orange external fuel tanks used only once because they broke apart before they came down in the ocean. But ET-94 was never used.