By Aaron Blevins, 9/27/2012
The spectacle in the sky that was Endeavour’s Southern California fly-over has concluded, signaling a dramatic end to the storied history of the NASA space shuttle, now headed to its new home at the California Science Center.
Endeavour, hitching a ride on the back of a 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flew from Florida to California before leaving the Edwards Air Force Base to begin its Tour de California on Sept. 21.
Accompanied by jets, the modified aircraft and the orbiter headed north for a flyby in Sacramento and San Francisco. Endeavour then traveled south, flying over NASA’s Ames Research Center and Vandenberg Air Force Base before heading to Los Angeles.
In L.A., the shuttle gave a nod and salute to several landmarks, such as Disneyland, The Getty Center, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles City Hall, Malibu Beach, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Universal Studios, Venice Beach and its future home, the California Science Center.
The aircraft landed at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) at approximately 12:45 p.m., marking a bittersweet moment for those who had built and maintained the space shuttle.
“It’s kind of a rough one in some ways and a nice one in others,” said Pete Freeland, a former senior test engineer who worked on Endeavour for five years.
He had helped build and maintain the shuttle, which required modifications every eight to 10 years. Specifically, Freeland had helped maintain the shuttle’s flight controls and pyrotechnics, among other things.
“It was basically like bringing in your car for a 30,000-mile check-up,” he said.
While Freeland would have liked to see Endeavour used for more space missions, he said the flyover on Friday represented a new chapter for NASA. The organization’s goal is to share the technology with the world in an effort to benefit mankind, Freeland said. The display of Endeavour, with all of its space bells and whistles, aims to do just that.
“When you’re actually able to physically be there, it’s a completely different experience,” Freeland added.
He said Endeavour was special, traveling at blistering speeds — up to Mach 25 — and withstanding temperature variations that are almost unfathomable. Maintenance crews used to marvel at the micro-meteorites they would pluck from the shuttle during check-ups, Freeland said. He described seeing it up close as “amazing.”
Freeland said he hopes that the flyover reinvigorates interest in NASA’s space programs. He said there are between 60 and 70 astronauts in the program, and most members of the public cannot name one.
“There’s a lot of unsung heroes and a lot of amazing work that’s going on,” Freeland said, adding that he hopes the public will continue to be supportive. “It’ll always be risky.”
Endeavour’s first mission began on May 7, 1992, and its primary assignment was to capture a malfunctioning communications satellite and replace its rocket motor. According to NASA, it took three attempts to capture the satellite, and an “unprecedented” three-person spacewalk ensued.
The shuttle, also called OV-105, made history is several ways. It was part of the longest spacewalk in space history, and became the first space shuttle to use a drag chute while landing.
However, NASA ended the 30-year space shuttle program in July 2011, when Atlantis completed the program’s 135th mission. NASA is now working toward exploring the rest of the solar system, with an emphasis on Mars. The agency is also developing its Space Launch System, which may provide a new capability for exploring space.
In the interim, Freeland, who is no longer active with NASA, said the public should continue to promote space exploration through their legislators and attend future NASA launches.
“That would go a long way,” he said.
Endeavour will be transported from LAX on Oct. 12, and will travel across the San Diego (405) Freeway before arriving at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, where it will be put on display on Oct. 30.
For information, visit www.californiasciencecenter.org.