Shuttle to leave Houston after overnight stop

Public can see shuttle at Ellington Field

Published On: Sep 18 2012 02:29:36 PM CDT   Updated On: Sep 20 2012 07:04:20 AM CDT
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HOUSTON -

The space shuttle Endeavour landed in Houston Wednesday, bolted to the top of a specialized Boeing 747, after it left the Kennedy Space Center for its final journey. After a stay lasting less than 24 hours, the shuttle will depart Houston at 7 a.m. Thursday.

NASA's youngest shuttle stopped at Ellington Field on its way to Los Angeles, where it will be placed on permanent display at the California Science Center.

The aircraft arrived in Houston to thousands of onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the spacecraft.

The shuttle carrier aircraft conducted low-level flyovers at 1,500 feet above locations along a planned flight path. Endeavour flew over numerous landmarks in the greater Houston area, including the three major airports -- George Bush Intercontinental, William P. Hobby and Ellington -- as well as the downtown skyline, and the San Jacinto Monument.

"I have goose bumps," one woman said while watching it from the San Jacinto monument. "My heart is racing. It's the first time I've seen a shuttle that close."

Bill Brewer said he planned his week around the flyover to make sure he didn't miss it.

"It's just a wonderful feeling," he said. "It's something that's going to be in history for the last time."

The plane landed at Ellington Field at about 10:40 a.m. It's final position is near the NASA Hangar 990 pedestrian gate. Public viewing within about 100 feet of the aircraft began 30 minutes after it was parked and continued 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Officials said as many as 100,000 people went to get an up-close look at the shuttle.

"I worked at NASA when they started with the program," said Sylvia Withrow said. "This is like the beginning for me, and saying goodbye."

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After Endeavour landed at Ellington, a Texas flag was displayed outside the jumbo jet as it taxied to the tarmac. Unfortunately, it was upside-down. KPRC Local 2 asked the crew about that, and the pilot said it was an honest mistake.

Scott Rush, 54, of Crystal Beach, said he has been a fan of NASA since its earliest days and didn't want to miss a chance to see Endeavor, even though he's not happy it isn't staying in Texas.

Houston wasn't chosen as a shuttle retirement home. Instead, it got a full-sized replica that was used for training.

"I think it's a pretty rotten deal, basically," Rush said. "The one we're getting is a toy. An important toy, but a toy nonetheless."

"Bittersweet now that we're not going to have the shuttle any more in Houston," space fan Rick Contreras said. "That's what Houston and NASA are all about. I think we should have that here in Houston."

"I think we should have got one of these," space fan Gary Donovan said.

If Endeavour couldn't remain anchored at the International Space Station, its main destination in recent years, then the science center is an ideal final stop, said astronaut Gregory Chamitoff. He will be on hand for Endeavour's arrival in Los Angeles.

Chamitoff grew up in California and flew to the space station in spring 2011 on Endeavour's final trip to orbit.

"I guess I didn't really know how I would feel until I woke up, and I think this is more exciting than it is sad for me," he said.

KPRC Local 2 went inside the modified jet that carries the shuttle. The seats have been taken out and everything that a passenger would expect to see on the roof isn't there.

"As far as structural, it's a 747, like a normal commercial airliner," Flight Engineer Larry Larose said. "The gear is the same. The wing is the same. The engines are the same."

Endeavour will take off again at sunrise Thursday morning. The shuttle will arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday after an overnight stay at Dryden/Edwards Air Force Base. In mid-October, it will be transported down city streets to the California Science Center.

This is NASA's last ferry flight of a shuttle. Atlantis will remain at Kennedy for display. Discovery is already at the Smithsonian Institution, parked at a hangar in Virginia since April.

The back-to-back delays in the ferry flight resulted in one day being cut from the Houston visit. The city was one of the bidders for a permanent shuttle exhibit, but had to settle for a mock-up from Kennedy. It lost out to New York City for the Enterprise, the shuttle prototype that was housed for years at the Smithsonian.

NASA retired its shuttle fleet last summer, under the direction of the White House, to spend more time and money on reaching destinations beyond low-Earth orbit. Asteroids and the planet Mars are on the space agency's radar for crewed missions.

Endeavour completed 25 missions, spent 299 days in orbit and orbited the Earth 4,671 times while traveling 122,883,151 statute miles.

NASA will provide updates on Endeavour's cross-country flight via social media using the hashtags #SpotTheShuttle and #OV105, which is Endeavour’s orbiter vehicle designation. Updates and public availability plans for Endeavour's stop in Houston also will be posted regularly at www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/endeavour_visit.html.

Photos: Shuttle Endeavour's final flight

Published On: Sep 19 2012 06:55:53 AM CDT   Updated On: Sep 20 2012 12:30:54 PM CDT

The space shuttle Endeavour takes off on its final flight with a stopover in Houston.

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The space shuttle Endeavour gets ready to take off from Ellington Field after a 1-day stop in Houston on its final voyage.