LOS ANGELES: It blasted into space 25 times and zipped around the Earth at speeds of 28,000 km/h.
But the space shuttle Endeavour's final mission was a slow, delicate, 3 km/h, 20-kilometre voyage through the streets of Los Angeles that took nearly three days to complete.
Its last mission officially ended on Sunday with applause, cheers and exhausted tears, after it was guided into its final resting place at the California Science Centre. The shuttle arrived about noon, 15 hours later than planned because of blocking trees and a broken transporter.
"Today is a day of celebration as LA welcomes home the space shuttle Endeavour," a beaming Los Angeles Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, said as he stood in front of the famous orbiter in Exposition Park.
"This is a piece of American history and a symbol of American spirit."
Thousands lined the streets of Los Angeles day and night since Friday to catch a glimpse of the massive Endeavour, cheering as it crept by businesses and homes.
Some, such as Ken Phillips, aerospace curator at the California Science Centre, had waited for what seemed like a lifetime for the shuttle to finally rest in Los Angeles. Mr Phillips was the one who wrote a proposal a few years ago to NASA to convince the agency that the museum was the perfect choice for the shuttle's last resting place.
"I wanted this 20 years ago," Phillips said as he watched the nose of the shuttle make a last right turn into the centre. "It so beat all the odds to be here. There are so many things that had to go right most of the time for it to be here. It's just incredible."
It took more than a year of planning and an estimated cost of $US10 million to make Endeavour's final journey through Los Angeles possible, museum officials said.
With a 24-metre wingspan, Endeavour stands 17 metres on the runway and 37 metres in length.
The massive logistical adjustments included chopping down some 400 trees, hoisting cable and telephone lines and laying down steel plates to protect streets and underground utilities.
Endeavour itself was hoisted atop a carrier typically used to haul oil rigs, bridges and heavy equipment and pulled by a Toyota Tundra. An operator walked alongside, controlling the movements with a joystick as several spotters along the wings looked out for hazards.
Yet despite all the planning, Endeavour's last journey, dubbed Mission 26, became an exercise in patience as its travel was delayed several times throughout Saturday and part of Sunday morning because of manoeuvring challenges.
In some spots it cleared trees by the width of a credit card, said California Science Centre spokesman William Harris.
"We knew there would be shifts in the roadways and there were so many variables," he said. "But everything and everyone came together, and now, it's surreal that it's here."
Endeavour was the fifth and final NASA shuttle to be built. It blasted into space 25 times, orbited the Earth 4700 times, and after a final launch in May 2011, logged 197,761,261 kilometres.
The shuttle's final journey started at Los Angeles International Airport early Friday morning.
Many of those who had thought Endeavour would pull into the Science Centre on Saturday evening stayed at their spot into Sunday morning. Bleary eyed but excited, Gregoria Estrada and her son Sebastian Santos, 16, of Lynwood, wore lime green T-shirts emblazoned with "I love my space shuttle" and camped in a nearby car-park to get up close and personal with the shuttle.
"It's something unusual, historic," Estrada said. "I feel emotional about it."
"It's not something you see everyday," added Santos. "I love the space shuttle."
The Science Centre will put the Endeavour on display in a pavilion on October 30 until a new addition called the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Centre is built.
Los Angeles Daily News