Space shuttle Endeavour lands in California

(CBS News) The shuttle Endeavour, on its way to retirement at a Los Angeles science museum, flew from Houston to California atop a 747 jumbo jet Thursday, dropping down for low-altitude passes over communities along the way, including Tucson, home of Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly, Endeavour's last commander, before pressing on to a picture-perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

The specially modified 747 and its 78-ton payload made a low pass over the fabled flight test center, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, to give Air Force personnel, families and tourists a chance to see the orbiter in flight before swooping to a tire-smoking touchdown at 3:51p.m. EDT (GMT-4).

Early Friday, the shuttle will take to the air for the final time, carried north for low-altitude passes over San Francisco, NASA's Ames Research Center and Sacramento before heading south to Los Angeles. The orbiter will fly over NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the iconic Griffith Observatory and the downtown area before landing at Los Angeles International Airport around 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT).

Endeavour will be removed from its 747 carrier jet by two cranes and temporarily stored in a United Airlines Hangar at LAX. In mid October, the orbiter, mounted atop a specialized transporter, will be hauled 12 miles along city streets to the California Science Center near the Los Angeles Coliseum where it will go on display.

Endeavour's three-day cross-country valedictory tour began Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center. After giving local residents and space workers a final chance to see the orbiter, the 747 flew west and made low-altitude passes over NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., and Lockheed Martin's Michoud Assembly Facility on the east side of New Orleans, where the shuttle's external fuel tanks were built.

Space Shuttle Endeavour is ferried by NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) over Houston, Texas on September 19, 2012, during a three-day flight to Los Angeles, where the shuttle will be put on public display at the California Science Center.
Space Shuttle Endeavour is ferried by NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) over Houston, Texas on September 19.
NASA
From there, the shuttle carrier aircraft flew on to Houston, flying over the city and then the Johnson Space Center before landing at Ellington Field, just a few miles from mission control. More than 200,000 spectators showed up over the course of the day to get a last glimpse of Endeavour.

Early Thursday, the 747 took off and continued its westerly tour, flying over Austin, Texas, and refueling in El Paso before flying on to the White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M., and then over Tucson.

NASA did not originally announce a Tucson fly over, but during a NASA television broadcast Wednesday, Kelly half-jokingly told the interviewer in a phone call to "tell the pilots when they land it would be great if they could fly over Tucson so Gabby and I could see Endeavour. It's on the way to LA, I don't even think they have to go out of the way."

The retired astronaut, who commanded Endeavour on its final flight in May 2011, got his wish. The Associated Press reported that Kelly and Giffords watched the flyby from the roof of a University of Arizona parking garage and that the former Arizona representative was "elated" at the sight.

Friday's trip to Los Angeles will be the last time a space shuttle flies. The veteran shuttle Discovery was flown to Washington earlier this year, joining the Smithsonian Institution's collection at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport. The prototype shuttle Enterprise was flown to New York, where it is now on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

NASA's lone remaining shuttle, the Atlantis, will stay at the Kennedy Space Center, housed in a $100 million facility now under construction at the privately operated Visitor Complex.

  • William Harwood

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 125 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia." You can follow his frequent status updates at the CBS News Space page.

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