During last week’s farewell tour, thousands of people turned out to take one final glimpse of Shuttle Endeavour in the air, before she was permanently grounded in California. Each time the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) landed, the US flag was held aloft from the flight deck – apart from during their stay in Texas, leading to a very special gift for Texan Nate Moeller.
A Piece Of History:
Landing at Ellington Air Field in Texas, Moeller of MaxQ Entertainment – who work in association with NASASpaceFlight.com – was one of thousands who travelled to greet the baby of the fleet, as she proudly sat atop of the SCA.
Taxiing towards her overnight stop, the crew of the SCA opened the window and displayed the Texan flag, albeit upside down. For Moeller, that provided an opportunity to joke about the incident with one of the crew, who he had gotten to know over the internet. However, the response would prove to be no joke.
“I had the good fortune of connecting with a member of the crew, who, upon landing at Ellington with Endeavour, opened the hatch above the flight deck and proudly flew the Texas flag as the 747 and Endeavour taxied toward us,” said Moeller to NASASpaceFlight.com
“Through an honest error, the flag had been mounted upside down, a sight at which we all had a good laugh, with my father even remarking ‘That’s a subtle protest – it wants to stay here and not go to L.A.’. “I quickly texted my friend on board to let him know, to which he responded “That’s ur flag”. Needless to say, I was stunned.”
Arriving pre-dawn the next morning, ahead of the SCA’s departure from Ellington, the crewmember who had responded kept his word and handed over the Texan flag – leaving Moeller speechless.
“The crewmember met me at the security gate and excitedly handed me the flag. I could think of nothing to say beyond extending my greatest thanks and wishing him a safe trip as the team continued to Los Angeles with their historic passenger, Endeavour,” added Moeller. “We said our goodbyes and he boarded the aircraft to prepare for departure.
“After snapping a couple of photos with the flag in hand, backdropped by the SCA/Endeavour duo, I proceeded to a nearby parking lot with a full view of the runway that would be used by the stack. I carefully hung the flag on the fence as a small salute and thank you to the crew, 747 and Endeavour as they lifted off right in front of us.
“Endeavour’s departure from Houston marked the conclusion of my shuttle-chasing adventure, which ended three years to the day after it began. Though I was sad to see her go, I’m thankful for the beautiful and thoughtful memento I have from the crew, as well as the story that will accompany it when visitors to my home ask about the Texas flag proudly displayed on my wall.”
The Texas public did not fail in showing their enthusiasm for Endeavour, turning out in large numbers. The response was so impressive, it reminded Moeller of the early days of Shuttle, something that has been repeated by numerous people throughout the farewell tour.
“The roads leading in and out of Ellington Field were jam-packed all day long, as Texans ventured in and out of the normally-quiet airport to be a part of this historic last journey of the SCA/orbiter stack,” he noted.
“In a scene reminiscent of early shuttle launches and landings, grass fields and surrounding roadways were lined with cars, RVs and news vans. In all, some estimate that over 100,000 people came to see Endeavour throughout the day – a fitting send off if there ever was one!”
Although California also did themselves proud with the turnout to see Endeavour, it has been argued that Texas was unfairly overlooked when the decision was made as to where to place the orbiters for their retirement. Moeller, a proud Texan, understandably agrees with such comments, but wished California well in caring for the youngest orbiter in the fleet.
“There is a reason Houston bears the nickname “Space City”. The dedication of the people at Johnson Space Center is a large part of what made the thirty-year Space Shuttle Program possible. In that sense, I overwhelmingly believe that an orbiter should have landed here for good,” Moeller noted.
“That said, I do understand why it didn’t happen. A lack of proper funding and campaigning here in Houston drove the decision to not award an orbiter to Space City. But I’m thankful that we had the chance to give Endeavour a proper sendoff as she began the journey to her new home in Los Angeles, and I was thrilled by the welcome she received all over California. It tells me that she’s in good hands and that’s what matters.”
Many people who attended the events, or simply caught a glimpse of the SCA/Endeavour duo, will all have their own stories about what the Shuttle means to them. For Moeller, it was an extra special moment, as the Endeavour completed his “set” of orbiters.
“Endeavour’s arrival brought an overwhelming sense of pride and joy for many reasons. She was the only bird I had not seen in person before, and now I can say I’ve seen all four orbiters (and the three spaceworthy birds in flight).
“The occasion was made even more special by the fact that my father, who had never seen an orbiter at all, was on hand for the flybys and landing, as well as the eventual tour of the 747. My wife joined me later that day and was also able to see the shuttle for the first time.
“Both were quite overwhelmed by the spectacle, and I dare say they have a new appreciation for what makes this business so special. Out of all the things to which I looked forward during the event, that is what I hoped for most. The departure, though somewhat sad, was still a proud and exciting moment. My final memory of an orbiter in motion is of Endeavour in flight. It is a fitting conclusion to an adventure that began exactly three years earlier.”
Another often-related note from those watching the orbiters head to their retirement homes was one of the future. Some people have the misconception the space program is all-but over. However, most – including Moeller – know there is more to come.
“Though the future programs lack the iconic image of the space shuttle, I look forward to seeing what comes of the ISS commercial crew initiatives as well as NASA’s plans for exploration beyond Earth orbit. I wish them all success and look forward to being a part of the next chapter of our space-borne endeavors.
“Most importantly – I cherish the amazing stories of the shuttle fleet and my own personal encounters with them all. To Discovery, Atlantis, Enterprise and Endeavour – Thank you, and farewell.”
To read about the orbiters – from birth, processing, every single mission, through to retirement, click here for the links:
(Images: Via Nate Moeller – MaxQ Entertaiment/NASASpaceFlight.com and NASA)
(L2 and NSF are continuing to follow the orbiters through to their retirement. To join L2, click here: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/)