It's nearly launch time for the space shuttle Endeavour's Mission 26 - a carefully planned, painstakingly slow and long-awaited trip along 12 miles of Los Angeles and Inglewood surface streets.
Starting late tonight, the retired orbiter will creep out of a Los Angeles International Airport hangar, where it has spent the past few weeks since arriving from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, and start heading to its new home at the California Science Center.
For two days, Mission 26 is expected to tie up traffic, pack neighborhoods along the course and disrupt power in areas where transmission lines will have to be moved to allow the shuttle to pass beneath.
Those with houses and businesses lining the route through Westchester, Inglewood and South Los Angeles will get a close-up of the 122-foot-long shuttle as it inches by at 2 mph atop a special transporter.
But for others, access to the path will be difficult; police have warned that sidewalks lining the course will be closed to pedestrians as well as those along some cross streets. City officials as a result have spent the past week trying to steer the public to designated viewing locations, including The Forum in Inglewood, where an 8-10 a.m. event Saturday is expected to draw thousands of spectators.
Large crowds also are expected that night outside the Science Center in Exposition
"Never before has an item of this size traversed our city streets," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Wednesday as the LAPD released more details about road closures and limited viewing locations. "While this once-in-a-lifetime event is a cause for celebration, public safety remains the city's top priority."
Rolling street and sidewalk barricades will start tonight
But not everyone is griping about being inconvenienced.
"We're going to have our cameras open," said Tony Sharma, manager of the Days Inn at Glasgow Avenue and Manchester Boulevard near the San Diego (405) Freeway, which claims a spot along the shuttle's path through Inglewood. "That's history the world is watching."
And that's coming from someone whose hotel is expected to lose electricity for six hours, Sharma said.
Nearby Randy's Donuts also will go dark, prompting the landmark shop near the 405 to close for business on Friday, said Larry Weintraub, one of the owners.
Instead, he said, the parking lot will be rented out to camera crews wanting to get a shot of the shuttle as it crosses the 405 overpass at Manchester. (That maneuver, expected to occur about 10 p.m. Friday, requires crews to first shift the shuttle onto a different transporter to eliminate stress on the freeway bridge, officials have said.)
"I'm disappointed people won't be able to be here," Weintraub said. "It should be a lot of fun, though."
The nearby 71-room Best Western Airpark Hotel, which has rooms facing Manchester, still had vacancies Wednesday but was filling up, manager Dee Kumar said.
"People are very excited. We have some from news crews. Some guests that just want to see it. I would say it's a mix of everybody," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see that."
Kumar, like his neighbors, has had to deal with some Endeavour-related headaches. After getting word that the shuttle would shut down Manchester in front of his hotel, he said he started calling guests who had made reservations to tell them they could be stranded; some canceled, Kumar said.
"I've been doing this for like the last two weeks," he said. "There's nothing that I can do."
Maps released Wednesday by Los Angeles and Inglewood police showed few changes in the shuttle's schedule, but added some potential locations where pedestrians may be able to get close to the route. (One go-to spot that will be open to the public is outside Inglewood City Hall at 1 Manchester Blvd., where the shuttle is expected about 8 a.m.)
Inglewood police Lt. James Madia said the maps - available at www.cityofinglewood.org - show streets crossing Manchester that will be open and closed to pedestrians because of utility work. But there's a caveat: "I can't say go there because all of those lots are private property," he said.
"For us, we recognize that people are going to come whether we tell them to or not," he added. "We would rather give them good options."
If all goes as planned, the Endeavour should clear LAX property around 2 a.m. Friday and reach Westchester's Sepulveda Boulevard business district a few hours later. It's expected to make a nine-hour stop at La Tijera Boulevard and Sepulveda Eastway before following Manchester Avenue east into Inglewood.
The shuttle should pass Inglewood City Hall and The Forum around 9 a.m. Saturday - where the public celebration is expected to draw more than 10,000 people - before following Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards toward Exposition Park.
At the corner of Crenshaw and MLK, officials said the shuttle will stop for a 2 p.m. event featuring 200 dancers, musicians and other artists. Space is limited, so spectators are urged to come early.
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For continuous live coverage of the shuttle Endeavour's slow-speed journey from LAX to the California Science Center from pre-dawn Friday to late Saturday - including photos, videos and live updates - go to www.dailybreeze.com.