Spaceflight Now

Endeavour heads westward on trek into retirement

Posted: September 16, 2012;
Updated Sept. 19

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The space shuttle Endeavour began her hopscotching trek across the southern United States on a ferryflight into retirement Wednesday, departing Kennedy Space Center at sunrise on a four-leg trek to reach the busy Los Angeles International Airport at noon Friday.

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Along the way, the modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft hauling the spaceplane piggyback will stop for a reception in Houston, refuel in El Paso and make one last visit to Edwards Air Force Base, where Endeavour had landed 7 times to conclude spaceflights, before taking an aerial tour of California to fly over Sacramento, San Francisco and LA.

"This last flight is exciting because a lot of the nation will get to see it. It is sad to see the end of the program. I'm not sure when it is going to hit me the hardest, when we get to LA or when we take the airplane back to Edwards," said Shuttle Carrier Aircraft flight engineer Henry Taylor.

The coast-to-coast trek, the final ferryflight for a space shuttle, started Wednesday 7:22 a.m. EDT from the three-mile-long runway at the Florida spaceport. Over the next 20 minutes, the flying duo headed southward over the beaches of Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach and Patrick Air Force Base before making a U-turn and traverse up the river to buzz the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and spaceport itself before flying away forever.

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The aircraft, under the control of Jeff Moultrie, then plotted a coastal course towards NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where the space shuttle main engines were tested, and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the external fuel tanks were manufactured, for thrilling, 1,500-foot altitude overpasses.

The trek then headed for Houston, the home of NASA's Mission Control Center that has directed all manned spaceflights since 1965, for ceremonial flyovers of the region before landing at Ellington Field outside the Johnson Space Center at 10:40 a.m. local time (1540 GMT).

Houston, Clear Lake and Galveston got flyovers as Endeavour passed by such landmarks as George Bush Intercontinental, William P. Hobby and Ellington airports, plus the Houston skyline and the San Jacinto Monument. The Johnson Space Center received a close encounter too.

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After safely on the ground at Ellington, the site where the astronauts departed in T-38 jets bound for the Cape to begin their launch countdowns, the 747 with Endeavour parked near the NASA Hangar 990 pedestrian gate for public viewing through Wednesday night at 9 p.m. local.

The ferryflight resumes at sunrise Thursday for a short jaunt to Biggs Army Airfield to El Paso for refueling. The journey continues later in the morning, doing a low flyby of White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico as the ferryflight continues en route to Edwards Air Force Base in California for a mid-day local time touchdown there to spend the night.

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The final leg of the final space shuttle ferryflight starts at dawn Friday with departure from Edwards and plots a course to make more low-altitude flyovers of NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field and landmarks in Sacramento and San Francisco before looping back toward Los Angeles to treat the locals and welcome Endeavour home before setting down on the runway at LAX, the international airport there before 12 noon.

Suggested viewing locations include the State Capitol in Sacramento, some of the San Francisco area museums including the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Chabot Space and Science Center, the Exploratorium, the Lawrence Hall of Science and the Monterey Bay Aquarium near Santa Cruz and Monterey.

Officials suggest spot in the Los Angeles area will include the California Science Center, Disneyland, The Getty Center, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles International Airport and Malibu.

"Endeavour's flight over Los Angeles' most picturesque landmarks will be a sight to inspire Angelenos for generations," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "Witnessing the shuttle's final flight over the Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Hills and our historic City Hall will be a sight to behold. I am proud to welcome this world-class landmark to its new home in the City of Angels."

Endeavour will be offloaded early Friday and the 747 will make its final flight back to Edwards Air Force Base on Sept. 26 for retirement.