The permanent exhibition of the Space Shuttle Endeavour is now open for business at the California Science Center near downtown Los Angeles.
But, that big, beautiful bird would never have arrived without a lot of help from a 2012 Toyota Tundra pickup truck.
The half-ton truck – just an off the line version without any special modifications – towed the shuttle and a custom built dolly across a bridge spanning a busy Los Angeles freeway. The standard issue Tundra moved a combined weight of more than 290,000 pounds on the Endeavour’s long, slow trip downtown.
After Endeavour cruised over San Francisco and much of Southern California before landing to pomp and circumstance at LAX, the shuttle took a slow victory lap through Los Angeles. Emotional crowds both cheered the sight of the great American engineering achievement and wept the end of an era in U.S. space exploration.
The shuttle took a 12-mile route over city streets to its new home at the California Science Center, including one passage over the 405 Freeway – over the Manchester Boulevard Bridge. Movie fans got a glimpse of the surrounding neighborhood during “Iron Man 2” when Tony Stark snagged a dozen glazed atop Randy’s Donuts.
The bridge required a lighter tow vehicle than other portions of the route for weight distribution purposes. In other words, if the larger standard towing setup used to move the shuttle crossed that bridge, engineers weren’t certain the combined weight wouldn’t bring the bridge down. So, enter Toyota.
The automaker did extensive testing and worked with the Sarens Group, a heavy lifting and engineering transport company, to develop a dolly to move the Endeavour over the bridge with a Tundra leading the way.
For Toyota, the tow was a chance to advertise the towing capacity of the Tundra while celebrating a 20-year partnership between Toyota and the California Science Center to raise awareness of the space program and continue public education through exhibits and events.
The model selected was a stock 2012 Tundra CrewMax 4×4 with Toyota’s 5.7-liter, 381 horsepower iForce V8. Obviously, the idea is to show a standard Tundra towing capability – to demonstrate how a truck anyone can buy can pull more weight that any buyer is likely to face. It would be less impressive to the average consumer if Toyota spent thousands of dollars on a one-off prototype. The truck used to tow the Endeavour was purchased from a Southern California Toyota dealer, with no modifications or special equipment added for the tow.