Five Space Shuttle Endeavour Disaster Scenarios
The Endeavour is scheduled to begin its excruciatingly slow steamroll through South Los Angeles tomorrow afternoon... but the move will likely be delayed if rain remains in the forecast. (The space shuttle's fragile tiles absorb water like little sponges, adding to the shuttle's already considerable 170,000-pound weight.)
That's just as well, though, because there are a lot of things that could go terribly wrong on the shuttle's mission from LAX to Exposition Park.
We count them down here, beginning with the collapse of the Manchester Boulevard bridge.
5. The Collapse of the Manchester Boulevard Bridge
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One of the first obstacles the shuttle team will have to navigate is the Manchester Boulevard bridge. That's where they will remove the shuttle from its high-tech transporter and load it onto a dolly that will be towed by a 2012 floor-model Toyota Tundra pickup truck.
CalTrans put the kibosh on allowing the transporter across the bridge because it didn't meet state requirements.
The weight limit on any California highway is 80,000 pounds. Even without the transport apparatus, the shuttle weighs more than twice that... And, as of this morning, CalTrans still had not approved the necessary permits to haul the behemoth across the 405-spanning overpass.
Toyota is planning to film the whole exercise for a commercial -- a commercial that will be made all the more dramatic if the bridge buckles and breaks under Endeavour's massive weight. Look out for that spot during the 2013 Super Bowl -- featuring a Tundra triumphantly emerging from the rubble, battered shuttle still in tow.
4. Shuttlemaggeddon on the 405
We're hoping the Manchester Boulevard bridge doesn't collapse. Even without that additional drama, though, the mere spectacle of the five-story Endeavour creeping along in slow motion above a busy stretch of the 405 -- an artery that carries more than 374,000 cars every day -- is liable to create one hell of a backup. Imagine every driver in the vicinity slowing down to rubberneck, plus a few dozen assholes holding iPhones out their car windows, rear-ending fellow motorists while they get their Instagram framing just right. #SpaceShuttle #Endeavour #405 #PileUp #Disaster
Poor South L.A.
Residents there are bearing the brunt of the shuttle delivery fiasco. They are losing close to 400 trees, being forced to deal with the crews removing street signs and power lines in their neighborhoods for weeks, and now they are gearing up for some brutal traffic jams due to delivery day street closures.
In return for all the trouble, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised they would be rewarded with "the mother of all parades."
The California Science Center's moving team doesn't want to deal with the added hassle of crowd control, so instead they are closing sidewalks and extending the perimeter as far back as possible, meaning residents will have a tough time even catching a glimpse of the hulking piece of hardware that has been wreaking havoc on their lives.
That's not all. Officials are encouraging residents to attend two parties: one at the Forum in Inglewood, and the other near the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall...but those parties can accommodate only 14,000 and 3,000 attendees, respectively -- WAY less than the expected number of space-exploration enthusiasts.
After being trampled over by the California Science Center repeatedly, lied to by Mayor Villaraigosa and denied entry to the shuttle's welcome party (featuring world-renowned choreographer Debbie Allen!) -- who could really blame the residents of South L.A. for flipping the shuttle over and lighting it on fire? Not us.
2. Giant Sinkhole
NASA engineers claim they have mapped out all underground gas lines, water mains, sewers and drainage systems that couldn't support Endeavour's weight. They say they've placed steel planks on the ground to protect them ... but it would take the bursting of just one water pipe to dissolve the rock bed beneath the asphalt and create a massive sinkhole that could swallow the shuttle whole.
Hell, it's just as likely that there already is a leaky, neglected pipe that has created a sinkhole somewhere along the South L.A. route. That sinkhole could be sitting there now, growing bigger, just waiting for some space shuttle to come along and fall into its gaping mouth. Happens all the time.
Here's a graphic, courtesy the US Geological Survey.
U.S. Geological Survey
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