HOUSTON - The space shuttle Endeavour, bolted to the top of a specialized Boeing 747, took off from Houston at sunrise Thursday on its final journey to a new home.
NASA's youngest shuttle stopped overnight at Ellington Field on its way to Los Angeles, where it will be placed on permanent display at the California Science Center.
Hundreds of people gathered at Ellington for the final take-off from Houston at 7 a.m. The sunrise and clear sky were a breathtaking back-drop for the historic trip.
Some woke up in the middle of the night to catch a glimpse of Endeavour.
"I woke up at 3 just to see this amazing site," said a seventh-grade student. "It's pretty amazing -- astounding, stunning."
"It's sad. It's sad for us to be on the wrong side of the fence. And it is what it is. It's a done deal," Toni Tagliarino said.
"I'm a little sad in the fact that we didn't get an actual real space shuttle," Ray Ruiz said.
Houston wasn't chosen as a shuttle retirement home. Instead, it got a full-sized replica that was used for training.
After leaving Ellington Field, the shuttle did low-level flyovers at the Johnson Space Center, Clear Lake and the downtown area.
The shuttle arrived in Houston on Wednesday, where it conducted flyovers at 1,500 feet above 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."
Officials said as many as 100,000 people went to Ellington for 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."
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 it and the pilot said it was an honest mistake.
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 is not 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."
After departing Houston, Endeavour flew over Austin and made a refueling stop in El Paso. It then flew over Tucson, Ariz., where the final commander of Endeavour, Mark Kelly, lives with his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
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.
Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.