Endeavour space shuttle makes final landing after triumphant tour

A nighttime shot shows Endeavour at LAX on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012.
September 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
After a triumphant tour over California skies, space shuttle Endeavour made its final landing at LAX on Friday and is home for good.

Thousands were gathered in Palmdale, where Endeavour, perched atop a modified Boeing 747, made its first flyover. Residents cheered, waved Americans flags and quickly snapped pictures during the dramatic flyover.

They were standing in a field right up the street from Plant 42, where Endeavour was assembled in 1991. Endeavour replaced the Challenger and was the last shuttle built.

"I'm just overwhelmed right now. It brings a lot of memories. It hits home for everybody. This is the home of the space shuttle, and it doesn't get any better than having it fly right over," said one woman.

Endeavour had arrived at Edwards Air Force Base on Thursday after a cross-country trip. The shuttle took off from the base at 8:15 a.m. PT Friday, one hour later than previously planned, due to low clouds and fog in the San Francisco Bay area.

Millions looked to the sky as Endeavour made its way across California for its historic last trip over some of the state's most iconic landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, state Capitol, Getty Center, Griffith Park and Disneyland. It also passed by the California Science Center, where it will soon be put on display.

"I am so proud to be an American. This was awesome," said Maria Delarocha of Lancaster, who watched from the Santa Monica Pier.

The shuttle flew just 1,500 feet in the air. It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight and something that many Southern Californians refused to miss. The viewing lasted just seconds for most, but it brought some to tears.

"It's just amazing because I saw the first time we ever had a spaceship go up in space. I saw the first time we had a man on the moon, and it's hard to think this program is ending," said Karen Westover of Manhattan Beach, who watched from Disneyland. "It's awesome to actually see it."

On rooftops all over downtown L.A., spectators were seen admiring the shuttle. One of the best viewing locations was atop City Hall, about 400 feet high.

"It was quite a sight to see a rocket ship fly over here. I never seen anything like that in my whole life," said Ronaldo Maldonaldo of Mount Washington, who watched from downtown.

Thousands packed the grounds around the Griffith Observatory to catch a glimpse of Endeavour. They got lucky when the 747 made a turn, went right by the Hollywood sign and then flew over the crowd a second time. For Ralph Mackey, it was an extra special moment. He worked for Rocketdyne in the 60s and 70s and helped design the shuttle engines.

"I was there at the beginning of the program. This is the final phase of the program. I'm lucky enough to still be here," he said.

The shuttle touched down for the last time at Los Angeles International Airport at 12:51 p.m. In El Segundo, residents were treated with four flyovers. The crowd roared with every pass the shuttle made.

Some people slept overnight on Imperial Highway to make sure they had a great view. By noon, there were more than 5,000 people, and police were forced to shut down several blocks to accommodate the massive crowd.

"It's a piece of history. I've always been fascinated with the space program, and it's a little sad to see this chapter closing," said Veronica Serna, a teacher.

Many children at viewing locations admitted they were out "sick" from school. But at Melrose Elementary School, students got a science lesson that they will never forget.

"That was the first time I ever seen like a airplane strapped to a rocket," said 9-year-old Kevin Dozier.

Endeavour will stay at LAX until Oct. 13 when it will make the 12-mile road trip to the California Science Center. Crews are making sure the ground route is clear of any obstacles, such as trees and power lines, in order to clear the shuttle's tail, which is 58 feet high.

Workers at the California Science Center are putting the finishing touches on a barn-like building that will house Endeavour for the first five years of its stay at the museum until a permanent display is built. The exhibit is scheduled to open to the public Oct. 30.


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