NASA’s retired space shuttle Endeavour completed her historic final flight with a picture-perfect landing at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) shortly before 1:oo p.m. PDT today. The 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft carrying Endeavour piggyback conducted several low flyovers in the skies above areas of Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, NASA Ames Research Center, Monterey Bay, and Los Angeles before touching down, bringing an end to the final ferry flight for NASA’s shuttle program.
Endeavour left Edwards Air Force Base at 8:15 a.m. and, after performing a series of fly-overs for folks there, headed north to the Sacramento state capital. The SCA with Endeavour then conducted a series of flyovers above downtown and surrounding areas before continuing west towards the San Francisco Bay Area. The pair, escorted by a F-15 fighter jet, performed low flyovers above Oakland and the surrounding East Bay areas before piercing between the twin towers of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. As tens of thousands of people looked on, Endeavour flew 360 degrees around the city before conducting one final 1,500 foot pass along the San Francisco waterfront, cruising over Alcatraz and flying through clear skies above the Golden Gate Bridge one final time.
Endeavour arrived in the skies above NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field shortly after, where an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 people waited on the flight line to welcome NASA’s youngest orbiter to the Golden State. After their low flyover, the 747 with Endeavour continued south towards Los Angeles, once again performing a low flyover, this time at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The final leg of Endeavour’s final flight saw the orbiter escorted through the skies os Los Angeles by two NASA F/18 Hornet fighter jets. Thousand of cheers and excited people from all around the world welcomed Endeavour to her new home in southern California. The crew piloting the 747 performed a series of dramatic flyovers above Santa Monica Pier, downtown Los Angeles, LAX, the famous Hollywood sign, Disneyland, Dodger Stadium, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Malibu Beach, Universal Studios, and Griffith Observatory – among others, before bringing their historic journey to an end.
One Final Move Planned
With Endeavour safely back on solid ground, crews at LAX will now begin preparing the orbiter for its move through the city next month. Endeavour needs to be removed from the top of the SCA, a complicated feat in and of itself. NASA engineers will remove the 170,000 pound shuttle using cranes and a giant sling to place the orbiter on a NASA ground transport. Once removed from the SCA and placed on the transport, Endeavour will take refuge inside a United Airlines hangar while final preparations for its transport and display are completed.
“We look forward to everyone joining in the celebration as Endeavour travels from the United Airlines hangar to the California Science Center’s Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion,” said California Science Center President Jeffrey Rudolph. “This will mark the first, last and only time a space shuttle will travel through 12 miles of urban, public streets. It’s not only one of the biggest objects ever transported down city streets; it’s an irreplaceable national treasure. Most importantly, this marks the beginning of Endeavour’s ultimate mission of inspiring current and future innovators and explorers at the California Science Center.”
Endeavour will begin the slow, carefully choreographed move from LAX to the CSC Friday, October 12. Many obstacles stand in the way – trees, power lines, light posts, traffic signals, signs, and other obstacles will have to moved, or removed all together, to allow for the 60-foot tall shuttle to maneuver safely through city streets. Endeavour has a 78-foot wingspan, and certain areas along the route allow only inches for the orbiter to safely pass, so the move will be slow and must be conducted very carefully. A series of moves and stops will occur as Endeavour passes under raised transmission lines and across the 405 Freeway, arriving at Inglewood City Hall for an official launch ceremony on the morning of Saturday, October 13.
The general public will have more than enough opportunity to take in the sights and witness one of the most historic happenings to ever hit the streets of Los Angeles. As if a space shuttle parade through the city was not enough, renowned actress and Emmy award-winning choreographer Debbie Allen will produce and direct a celebration of Mission 26 upon Endeavour’s arrival at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Crenshaw Boulevards. The 20-30 minute celebration will include over 200 artists featuring the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, taiko drummers, aerialists, and more.
Endeavour’s final journey will come to an end Saturday evening, when the orbiter arrives at the CSC, which is located in Exposition Park. The Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion is, however, only a temporary home to house the orbiter while the CSC raises the money needed to design and construct her future permanent home – the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. When complete, the CSC hopes to display Endeavour in launch configuration, standing vertical and attached to a mock External Fuel Tank and twin Solid Rocket Boosters. With Endeavour as its centerpiece, the Air and Space Center will provide guests with opportunities to investigate atmospheric flight and the exploration of our universe, integrating hands-on exhibits with a unique collection of aircraft and spacecraft to encourage active learning and critical thinking.
Endeavour will open to the public on October 30. At a cost of roughly $200 million for the move of Endeavour and construction of her temporary exhibit, the cost is paid in full by donations made through a comprehensive fundraising campaign.
The CSC was awarded Endeavour in April of 2011 after a nationwide competition was held by NASA to display their three retired orbiters. Discovery was awarded to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and Atlantis was awarded to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Discovery is already on display, and Atlantis will go on display in a new $100 million exhibit at her home port later this year or early next year.
Endeavour flew her last mission, STS-134, in May of 2011. Her landing at Kennedy Space Center marked the end of a 25-year career with NASA, and technicians have been busy preparing OV-105 (Endeavour’s official NASA designation) for her new home. Toxic hazards such as hypergols, fuels, oxidizers, and ammonia have all been removed to prevent any leaks, drips, or out-gassing that could be dangerous to the public from occurring. Several systems were flushed of toxic hazards, or were removed all together. Hardware such as the space shuttle main engines, or SSME’s, were removed for re-use on future vehicles in the coming years – Endeavour will be displayed with replica engines, which have already been installed. Engineers also spent a lot of time studying some of the original hardware which was as old as the shuttle itself, using the data collected to understand how well the engineering worked over the years, research that was not possible while Endeavour was still a “space-worthy” vehicle. That research will prove to be critical in developing better, more efficient, longer lasting hardware that will be used on future vehicles.