Space Shuttle Endeavour arrived in Los Angeles on Friday, following a stunning cross country tour that honored her service and left untold thousands in awe of the orbiter’s magnificence. The baby of the fleet completed her final leg, taking in some of California’s most famous landmarks, prior to touching down for the final time at LAX.
The final leg saw the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) take the long taxi out of Dryden Flight Research Center, before taking off on what would become the last ever time an orbiter would be seen in the air.
Saluting Dryden and the Edwards Air Force Base, SCA Captain Jeff Moultrie continued to show his impressive piloting skills, looping over the expansive backdrop of military buildings and wind farms, before heading out into the distance over the mountains.
While the orbiter’s farewell to the facility – a place that had a proud history in hosting numerous shuttle landings – was an impressive sight, nothing could prepare those following for what was to come, as the SCA powered towards the Bay Area.
With NASA TV unable to cover the vast array of flyover locations, local TV stations picked up the baton, following Endeavour’s path over key cities and landmarks, providing amazing footage of the unique sight of a space shuttle orbiter piggybacking on a 747 for low altitude passes of Californian cities.
Although it has been often-argued Houston – the home of Mission Control – deserved to be the retirement location for one of the retired orbiters, California stepped up to the plate on Friday, with thousands of people lining office block roofs, school yards and park areas.
And while there was always the “fear” a political official would be quick to draw attention away from the sadness of shuttle retirement, in order to focus on the future, random members of the Californian public managed to find the correct balance, ranging from first-time shuttle viewers proclaiming how beautiful Endeavour looked, to others – notably children – saying the sight was inspiring and that they now wanted to become an astronaut.
The word “bitter-sweet” was somewhat overused by TV commentators during their coverage. However, the tone of the event became one of celebration, not just of Endeavour, but of the entire space program, and even the United States – as a spontaneous “U-S-A” chant broke out from the crowd during Endeavour’s ride into San Francisco.
The City by the Bay provided what was always expected to be a special backdrop, and it didn’t disappoint, as the SCA carried Endeavour on two passes of the Golden Gate bridge, accompanied by the sound of a roaring crowd and a near-overload on twitter as people rushed to post photos of the iconic sight.
A salute to NASA Ames and NASA JPL followed, notably responded to with photos of the SpaceX workforce standing on the roof and in the car lot of their Hawthorne facility, looking up in awe at the vehicle they are tasked with playing a role in partially replacing, at least from the standpoint of keeping the International Space Station operational.
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By now, Endeavour was in Los Angeles, the city’s latest famous resident as one newscaster put it.
However, before landing, the SCA provided Endeavour with a bird’s eye tour of her new home, riding over the skyscrapers in downtown, over the famous Hollywood sign, above the Queen Mary and again over school yards packed with screaming youngsters who were probably seeing an orbiter in the air for the first – and last – time.
Then came the time for the SCA to bring Endeavour back to terra firma, where she will spend the remainder of her days, as the duo landed in front of a vast amount of media at LAX.
Taxiing off the runway, and with an American flag waved from the flight deck of the SCA, the duo came to a stop in front of a large crowd of guests, next to the assortment of cranes that will lift the orbiter on to the tarmac.
A large amount of work was required to evaluate how to help her egress the modified 747, initially providing a template for Discovery’s removal from the SCA at Dulles Airport, ahead of her retirement trip to the Smithsonian, and followed up by New York’s receipt of Enterprise.
This planning was conducted under the guidance of the Management Integration & Planning T&R (Transition and Retirement) Readiness Reviews, which utilized on-site procedures with all the museums set to receive an orbiter. Simulations were also conducted at the SLF last year.
“The fly away kit is a wind restraint system for use with portable cranes and the 743 sling when demating the Orbiter from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at a location that does not have a Mate Demate Device (MDD),” added the T&R notes ahead of the Ferry trips (L2).
“This is the setup that will be used when the Orbiters are ferried for delivery to the museum locations. No flight hardware, SCA, or mockups were involved in this test. The Fly away kit demonstration was completed with two successful lift cycles.”
The process is elaborate, as shown in a Transition and Retirement presentation (acquired by L2 LINK), with cranes already staged next to the United Airlines hanger by the time the SCA and Endeavour landed at LAX.
Once removed from the SCA, Endeavour will take up residence in the United hanger, prior to being lifted on to a large flatbed truck for the road journey to the California Science Center (CSC).
To read about the orbiters – from birth, processing, every single mission, through to retirement, click here for the links:
(Images: Via CBS 2, CBS 5, ABC 7, L2 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/)