Endeavour thrills residents with dramatic tour over southland

City News Service | 9/21/2012, 1:28 p.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--After traveling nearly 123 million miles, the space shuttle Endeavour spent its last moments in the air today as it took a majestic aerial tour of the Southland, drawing cheers from thousands of residents as it passed overhead before landing at Los Angeles International Airport--a stopover on its road to retirement.

Mounted atop a modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, the shuttle took a circuitous tour, flying over Malibu to the Santa Monica Pier then to downtown Los Angeles and the California Science Center in Exposition Park, where it will ultimately be put on display as a permanent exhibit.

The piggy-backed aircraft circled over the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, Getty Center, the Rose Bowl and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena before flying south to Disneyland and back to Long Beach and Downey.

At each site, throngs of people cheered and furiously shot photos with cameras and cell phones.

The shuttle departed Edwards Air Force Base, near the border of Los Angeles and Kern counties, at 8:17 a.m. It made flyovers of Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area before circling toward the Southland. The departure was delayed an hour in the hope that San Francisco's famous fog will dissipate enough to allow clear viewing for Northern Californians.

As Endeavour headed south, it passed over NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffatt Field north of San Jose and Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

The flight culminated at LAX at 12:52 p.m. with a landing punctuated by a member of the crew aboard the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft opening a door on top of the plane and holding an American flag that fluttered in the wind as the aircraft taxied.

The shuttle will remain at a United Airlines hangar until Oct. 12, when it will begin a two-day, 12-mile journey on city streets to the California Science Center at Exposition Park. It will go on permanent display at the museum beginning Oct. 30.

Despite concerns about troubles on Southland roadways during the shuttle's aerial tour--from motorists looking at the sky instead of the road--Los Angeles police said none of those problems materialized. The Los Angeles Fire Department sent paramedics around noon to Griffith Park on reports of a few "heat-related medical complaints," according to spokesman Erik Scott.

The shuttle's cross-country journey began just after dawn Wednesday when it took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It stopped overnight at Ellington Field near Johnson Space Center in Houston.

En route to Edwards--it touched down at 12:52 p.m. Thursday--the orbiter made a flyover of Tucson, Ariz., to honor former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, commanded Endeavour on its final mission last year. Giffords was seriously wounded in a shooting at a Tucson campaign appearance in 2011.

Endeavour's overland route from LAX to the science center requires the removal of hundreds of trees and the reconfiguring of power lines and other obstacles. The California Science Center Foundation has agreed to replant around four times as many trees than will be removed in some neighborhoods along the route.