Trees coming down so space shuttle can roll in LA

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Space Shuttle Endeavour at launch pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in 2008 file photo

Space Shuttle Endeavour at launch pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in 2008 file photo. (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Los Angeles is trading the trees for the stars – and not everybody’s happy about it. Crews clearing a path for the space shuttle Endeavor have begun cutting down hundreds of trees in South Los Angeles and Inglewood, with some residents mourning their loss even as they welcome a piece of history.

Chainsaws and woodchippers were at work Tuesday, removing pine, ficus and other trees along the route that the enormous spacecraft will take on its final voyage through the streets of Los Angeles and Inglewood.

The spaceplane will be hauled from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center, where it will be displayed in a new exhibit hall. The two-day, 12-mile journey begins on Oct. 12.

Officials have said they will have to remove about 400 trees and reposition signs, streetlights and traffic signals to make room for the spaceplane, which has a 58-foot-tal tail and a 78-foot wingspan.

The science center has agreed to plant two trees for each tree taken down.

But not everyone is happy about seeing decades-old trees replaced with skinny saplings.

“They are cutting down these really big, majestic trees,” said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, a neighborhood council member and longtime resident of the Leimert Park area. “It will be beyond my lifetime before they will be tall like this again.”

The route was chosen with community input. An alternative was worked out after residents disapproved of a route through Leimert Boulevard that would have required taking down dozens of pine and fir trees planted in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Los Angeles Times reported.

Other ways of moving the shuttle were considered but rejected. A freeway route was impossible because Endeavor couldn’t get under the overpasses. The 170,000-pound craft was too heavy to lift by helicopter and taking it apart might damage the delicate heat-resistant tiles.

Inglewood officials will use the move as an opportunity to get rid of trees that have damaged sidewalks or otherwise cause problems. The California Science Center is expected to spend $500,000 to improve the city’s landscape.

The shuttle’s significance also isn’t lost on residents.

“It is a historical artifact and national treasure,” science center president Jeffrey Rudolph said. “The community understands that and recognizes that it will help inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Cristina Melendrez, who works for a charity serving those with disabilities, said she planned a month-long curriculum around Endeavor’s arrival.

“It’s a shame they are cutting down these beautiful trees,” she said. “But it’s going to be fun having our participants witness history.”

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