Riding piggyback on a 747, the Space Shuttle Endeavour left Houston for the last time this morning. It will puddle-jump its way across the American Southwest, refueling and doing flybys as it heads for Edwards AFB.
On Saturday, October 13, the Shuttle will make its last trip as it is delivered to the California Science Center in Los Angeles where it will go on permanent display.
A few days ago, Toyota announced that Endeavour would be towed by a 2012 Toyota Tundra CrewMax half-ton pickup for the last quarter-mile of its journey to the Science Center.
The event was developed in partnership between Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, Toyota’s ad agency, and the Science Center.
“There is no larger or more recognizable icon of the U.S. space program’s success than the shuttle, and to have it towed by the Toyota Tundra is not only an incredible example of the capabilities of the truck, but an honor to be part of history,” said Ed Laukes, TMS vice president of marketing communications. “The entire journey is something the world will be watching, and gives us a chance to prove that the ‘overbuilt’ Tundra is built to do any job – even tow the space shuttle.”
Following extensive testing, Toyota says a stock Tundra equipped with a 5.7-liter V8 engine will safely pull the 292,500 pounds of Orbiter, trailers and supporting structure down Bill Robertson Lane in Exposition Park, near downtown Los Angeles. The automaker worked with The Sarens Group, a heavy lifting and engineered transport company, to develop a dolly specifically for hauling the Endeavour. Toyota says the truck will be identical to those at Toyota dealerships, with no modifications made to increase towing capacity or generate more power. However, one might expect to see a pintle hitch instead of the more common ball.
Toyota has developed online resources and activities about the event, the shuttle and the Tundra that be found at www.toyota.com/TundraEndeavour.
The Toyota announcement drew a sharp response from the Michigan Republican Party. Matt Frendewey, Communication Director for the Michigan Republican Party said “Barack Obama acts as if he single-handedly built the U.S. domestic auto industry, meanwhile, a symbol of American greatness will be towed to its final resting place by a foreign competitor, forever cementing the image of a Toyota truck towing a retired space shuttle.
“The symbolism of this PR stunt should be offensive to every red-blooded American with vested interest in the success of the U.S. automotive industry.”
What Mr. Frendeway may not know is there is an ongoing partnership between Toyota and the Science Center. A donated Tundra truck is currently on display as part of a physics exhibit. In fact, the truck used to tow the Shuttle will replace the existing pickup when the Endeavour exhibit opens on October 30, 2012. Michael Rouse, Toyota’s Vice President for Philanthropy & Community Affairs, is on the Science Center’s board of trustees. Toyota had already contributed between $10,000 and $15,000 to the Science Center prior to the deal to pull the shuttle and has set up a website http://www.toyota.com/tundraendeavour/#tweet-drive where visitors can Tweet and trigger a $50.00 donation to the Science Center.
With those factors taken into account, the “PR stunt” sounds less like politics and more like two entities leveraging an existing relationship to create an event that will benefit both.