The space shuttle Endeavour’s final journey from LAX to the California Science Center required almost as much preparation as an actual space flight. Clearances had to be checked and trees needed to be pruned before the shuttle could roll through the streets of Los Angeles. In the middle of it all, Toyota found room for a publicity stunt.
The move, dubbed Mission 26, involved placing Endeavour on a custom-built 80-wheel vehicle. It’s top speed was two mph, not bad considering the shuttle and transport vehicle weighed a combined 300,000 pounds. To keep Endeavour from crushing underground sewer pipes, the streets were covered with steel plates to better distribute the craft’s weight.
The sheer weight of an earthbound space shuttle wasn’t the only problem. While it was being floated down the Hudson on its way to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, the prototype shuttle Enterprise was damaged when one its wings hit a dock. With barely any clearance on either side of its 78-foot wingspan, a repeat of that incident was a real possibility as Endeavour negotiated LA’s streets.
To keep Endeavour from being the victim of a fender-bender, every tree, power line, and street sign in the shuttle’s path was removed.
In the middle of it all was Toyota, whose public relations department obviously couldn’t resist this high profile event. A 2012 Tundra CrewMax 4×4 towed Endeavour over the Manchester Boulevard Bridge.
The shuttle’s weight was well in excess of the Tundra’s rated towing capacity of 9,000 pounds, yet the truck pulled it off. Toyota didn’t swap out the engine for one of the NASA Crawler’s either; the truck was purchased from a local dealer and was kept bone stock. Perhaps the Tundra had some help from the four tractor units that propelled Endeavour during the rest of the trip, or maybe Toyota took advantage of the wheeled rig’s low rolling resistance.
The trip across the 100-yard Manchester Bridge took five minutes.
The Tundra was driven by Toyota’s in-house professional, Matt McBride. The co-pilot for this mission was Garrett Reisman, an astronaut who rode Endeavour to the International Space Station in 2008.
Toyota used the shuttle pull to underscore its connections to the United States. The Tundra wore “Born in America” lettering on its front end, which isn’t false advertising since this Japanese-brand truck is made in San Antonio, Texas.
That Tundra will join Endeavour at the California Science Center, replacing another Tundra in an exhibit on the physics of leverage.
Endeavour is one of four remaining space shuttles, all of which were retired in 2011. The prototype Enterprise never flew into space, and is currently displayed on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid. Discovery replaced Enterprise at the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly into space, will remain at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.