Final Endeavour: Shuttle flies to LA

Space shuttle Endeavour – mounted atop NASA’s shuttle carrier aircraft – passes over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Enlarge photo

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Space shuttle Endeavour – mounted atop NASA’s shuttle carrier aircraft – passes over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

LOS ANGELES – After celebratory low passes over Tucson, Ariz., Houston and other points to the east, NASA’s retired space shuttle Endeavour arrived on its final flight here Friday, swooping over hordes of crowds looking for a last glimpse of the space icon.

Thousands watched from nearby rooftop buildings and along a bridge as the shuttle, strapped to the back of a modified jumbo jet, circled the city. Crowds also lined dozens of piers in San Francisco to get a look at the craft’s final aerial tour.

Hitching a ride on top of a jumbo jet, the pair soared over the state Capitol, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Sign and other icons en route to an afternoon landing at the Los Angeles International Airport where it is now being prepped for a slow-speed journey to its museum home next month.

At the Santa Monica Pier, spectators pointed their cameras skyward and some chanted, “USA! USA!” as Endeavour swooped along the coast.

“Even though it was a few seconds, it was a unique experience to witness history,” said Andrew Lerner, 23, of Santa Monica, Calif.

Endeavour, the newest spacecraft in the mothballed space shuttle fleet, is destined for a final home as an exhibit at the California Science Center. There it will be a reminder not only of the nation’s space program but also of the prominent role aerospace forged in driving development of Southern California in the latter half of the 20th century.

Much of the space shuttle was built in the region, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, and while it is an industry in decline now, aerospace provided livelihoods for thousands of engineers and other workers for decades in Los Angeles.

“Endeavour will quickly become a must-see attraction in Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said. “More importantly, it will motivate our young people to dream about the possibilities of a world beyond our own. Endeavour is an impressive testament to the history and heritage of space exploration and aerospace innovation in our region.”

The shuttle arrived in California at midday Thursday, riding in its perch atop a specially configured Boeing 747 transport plane. It landed shortly after noon at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert 100 miles north of the city, where it was spending the night before its final flight Friday.

The shuttle departed Florida on Wednesday, overnighted at Houston, home to many NASA workers, and Thursday headed west over Tucson, in a salute to the commander of its last space mission, Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely injured in a January 2011 shooting.

City and state officials had urged the public not to try to watch the flyover from their vehicles, fearing even more traffic congestion and accidents.

Friday, California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano said, is normally a heavy traffic day. “We don’t want anybody stopping on the shoulder, because we will cite them,” Luevano says.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. ... If people really want to see it, we suggest they exit the freeway.”

The shuttle will now wait at the airport by the Pacific Coast until its cross-town trip early next month. Getting to its final resting spot will require a 15-mile trek on a wheeled transport across Los Angeles streets, requiring the removal of nearly 500 trees and scores of light poles, sign posts and other obstacles.

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