LOS ANGELES — The last-ever space shuttle to take flight has made its final landing.
Space shuttle Endeavour, mounted atop NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet, touched down at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in California Friday (Sept. 21), after three day, cross-country trip from Florida.
The iconic black and white spacecraft, riding piggyback on the blue and white NASA aircraft, landed on the southern most runway at LAX at 12:51 p.m. PDT (3:51p.m. EDT; 1951 GMT). The early afternoon arrival marked the end of not only Endeavour's airborne journey, but the final ferry flight of the space shuttle program era.
Endeavour, which flew into space 25 times between 1992 and 2011, was delivered from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to L.A. for the California Science Center (CSC), which was awarded the shuttle by NASA last year. After a two-day planned road trip from the airport to the science center next month, the CSC will open its Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Display Pavilion on Oct. 30.
The CSC held a welcome ceremony for the arriving shuttle and SCA at the United Airlines' hangar where Endeavour will be hoisted off the aircraft and readied for its city street transport. State and local officials heralded the arrival as a homecoming — Endeavour and its sister ships were built and assembled in Southern California. [Photos: Shuttle Endeavour's California Sightseeing Tour]
Endeavour's transcontinental trip from the East to West Coast included two stopovers in Texas before landing in California on Thursday at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. The overnight stay at Dryden preceded Endeavour's departure on a state-wide tour Friday morning before touching down at LAX.
Taking off at 8:15 a.m. PDT (11:15 a.m. EDT; 1515 GMT), the carrier aircraft flew Endeavour over its birthplace, the city of Palmdale where it was assembled, as well as the surrounding towns of Lancaster, Rosamond and Mojave, before heading north to Sacramento for a flyover salute of the state capital. [Shuttle Endeavour Soars Into Calif. Skies (Video)]
The flight was delayed getting started by an hour to allow the fog to rise by the time the air- and- spacecraft reached San Francisco Bay for a scenic overflight of the Golden Gate bridge. The SCA and shuttle then flew a low pass by NASA's Ames Research Center and, further south, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Circling over Los Angeles, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of residents had the chance to spot the shuttle flying over numerous landmarks and area attractions. The SCA took Endeavour over Disneyland, the Getty Museum, Griffith Observatory and by the Hollywood sign, the Santa Monica Pier and Universal Studios. Other flybys included the facilities for two of NASA's contractors, Boeing in Seal Beach and SpaceX in Hawthorne.
Endeavour also flew over its soon to be permanent home, the California Science Center at Exposition Park.
Trading wings to wheels
Now on the ground, Endeavour was set to be hoisted by two large cranes off the back of the SCA and lowered onto a wheeled overland transporter overnight Friday. A NASA team will then work with science center curators to ready the orbiter for its move to the museum.
The aerodynamic tail cone installed on Endeavour for the ferry flight for will be removed and a pair of thruster engine nozzles will be installed for the orbiter's display. NASA will also retrieve from inside the shuttle's crew compartment a package of embroidered patches that the CSC requested be flown with Endeavour on its westward journey.
Beginning Oct. 12, Endeavour will exit the airport on top of the modified NASA transporter using four self-propelled, computer-controlled vehicles. The 12-mile (19-kilometer) trip will take the shuttle through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles, where again thousands of residents and visitors are expected to get an up-close view of the orbiter on the move.
To facilitate the street parade, the CSC has been working to temporarily remove or raise traffic lights, power lines and other obstacles to the shuttle Endeavour's 78-foot (24-meter) wingspan and 58-foot-tall (18-m) tail. The center has also had to have removed nearly 400 trees in the way, but are investing $500,000 to replace each with as many as four in their place, a well as provide two years of tree maintenance.
Reaching the CSC by dusk on Oct. 13, Endeavour will be towed the final quarter of a mile (400 m) by a Toyota Tundra pickup truck as part of a partnership and promotion that could raise upwards of $500,000 towards the shuttle's final exhibit. The Oschin pavilion is a temporary home for Endeavour; by 2017, the CSC plans to open the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center to present the space shuttle vertically, as it was on its launch pad.
The California Science Center's Endeavour exhibit is one of only four displaying the retired shuttles. Discovery, the fleet leader, is now at the Smithsonian in northern Virginia. The prototype Enterprise is in New York City on board the converted aircraft carrier at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly in space during NASA's 135th mission, will be moved to NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in November.
See shuttles.collectspace.com for continuing coverage of the delivery and display of NASA's retired space shuttles.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.