By now you've seen the YouTube posts and news stories about the Endeavour space shuttle being transported through 12 miles of Los Angeles city streets. The event took about 17 hours longer than city and transportation officials anticipated, and it required some on-the-spot tree trimming to squeeze past a few narrow sections.
The Endeavour is now being housed at the California Science Center near the campus of USC, just south of downtown Los Angeles. The shuttle will eventually be displayed in its upright takeoff position.
We had the chance to see the shuttle up close Friday night when a fully loaded (unmodified) Toyota Tundra Limited CrewMax 4x4 towed the stripped-down shuttle over the Manchester Boulevard Bridge over the 405 Freeway, a central artery of Los Angeles. The freeway was closed in both directions for several minutes before the tow took place, to prevent any freeway collisions that could occur while the shuttle moved across the overpass.
The shuttle was parked at La Cienega and West Manchester boulevards for several hours as workers and city officials oversaw the switching of the trailer systems. Once hooked up to the Endeavour, the Tundra was piloted by professional stunt driver Matt McBride (whom you might recognize from a series of other death-defying Tundra commercials) and astronaut Garrett Reisman, who was taken to the International Space Station in Endeavour and spent 95 days in space.
The actual towing the Tundra did with the shuttle took only four minutes, but it required some thoughtful prep. The tow hitch was modified to accommodate a specially designed drop pin. Also, since there would be no weight on the rear end of the truck, Toyota put a 1,700-pound weight in the back to give the rear tires some force for grip. Finally, the tire pressures were lowered to give the treads as much contact patch as possible. Once the prep was finished, all the driver had to do was put the truck into low range, drop it into 1st gear and keep the rpm steady.
The actual distance the truck and trailer had to navigate was only about 300 yards, but as with most well-engineered bridges, there was a bit of a crown to it, so the pull up the initial front side of the bridge and back up the downhill section on the other side were the biggest challenges for the driver and truck. "The only point I felt the Tundra had to work a little harder was going back up the hill on the far side of the bridge. It was pulling pretty hard," McBride said.
The Tundra "big-pull" event was well-documented with video, camera crews and TV commercial filming. We're likely to see the footage in a series of Toyota commercials and possibly other media as well. Likewise, you can bet that local and national dealerships will use this historic opportunity to sell more trucks. In fact, we saw at least two different bumper stickers on the famous tow truck taking a jab at its half-ton competition.
Additionally, the actual Toyota Tundra that pulled the Endeavour will also end up at the California Science Center (dontated by Toyota), taking the place of a first-gen Tundra at the entrance of the museum, which gives a real-world, interactive demonstration of leverage (or fulcrums) to attendees. We expect more information to follow.
For more photos from the evening's events, go to the PickupTrucks.com Facebook page.