Crenshaw High used to have an academic track for students interested in science and math careers and there have been recent talks to bring it back. Principal L. Remon Corley, who took over the helm two months ago, hopes the shuttle experience will ignite the necessary spark.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to see the power of science and math in action. It's an experience they won't forget," he said.
Anthony Maddox, a professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in STEM education, noted the shuttle travels down some of the same streets as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade in South Los Angeles.
"Given the diversity of the shuttle crews over the years, the coincidence seems so appropriate," he said.
Walker, the laser scientist, has taken busloads of youngsters over the years to view shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and experimental aircraft flights from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave Desert.
Walker is best known for shining a laser beam from the Lick Observatory at a reflector mirror that moonwalkers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set up during the Apollo 11 mission — an experiment that proved man had been on the moon.
These days, Walker tries to instill his passion to kids who gather at his tutoring center, located in the lobby of a converted bank building. Study carrels are next to an old walk-in safe.
Days before Endeavour's move, Walker waved around an inflatable model of a shuttle while students peppered him with questions. During a discussion about heat tiles, Walker instructed them to rub their hands together to generate friction. The shuttle tiles, he said, can withstand the heat the vehicle faces as it streaks through the atmosphere.
Afterward, Walker said he was pleased with the curiosity he saw. "They're observing and trying to figure out how things work," he said. "They'll need those skills for a career in science or engineering, or for whatever they do."
Michael Pineda, 13, said he had plans to be a lawyer, but is now leaning toward a career in aerospace after seeing Endeavour fly over. He could not miss a chance to see the shuttle pass by.
"Definitely, I'm there. They always say all this stuff about Inglewood, and now I think of my hometown and, wow, it's finally going to be on the charts," he said.
Raquel Maria Dillon contributed to this report from Inglewood, Calif.
Alicia Chang can be followed at http://twitter.com/SciWriAlicia