Los Angeles is not a city that has a great sense of community. It is spread out in all four directions, encompassing mountain ranges and flood plains, dense urban concentrations with deserts whose only inhabitants are Joshua Trees. Yet in October, it came together for the most unaccountable of reasons: The space shuttle Endeavour was going to take two to three days to gingerly make its way through twelve miles of L.A. streets beginning at LAX Airport and ending at the California Science Center in Exposition Park.
At first, the impact was negative. Several hundred trees along the route were going to have to be cut down so as not to damage the huge wingspan of the shuttle as it passed by. The City Fathers promised to plant two or more trees for every one that was cut down, but it still left a bad taste in the mouths of many Angelenos.
But that all changed with the majestic progress of the shuttle through the streets. Crowds gathered and cheered while teams of engineers maneuvered the gigantic space vessel past a minefield of trees, wires, buildings, and other potential dangers.
It didn’t all come home to me until I saw a video in stop motion of the Endeavour making its way through Los Angeles and being met with a cheering throng both day and night. The video, on Astronomy Picture of the Day, is well worth watching. Among other things, it showed me a picture of a city celebrating the era of space exploration as one, something that doesn’t happen very often in this sun-drenched clime.