Yesterday morning, Space Shuttle Endeavour departed Kennedy Space Center aboard the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft on her way to her retirement home at the California Science Center. She traveled from Florida to Ellington Field in Houston. Today, she is departing Houston and travelling to Biggs Army Air Field near El Paso, TX for a refueling stop then heading to Dryden Flight Research Center in the California high desert. From there, she’ll fly up to San Francisco doing a flyby of NASA’s Ames Research Center then back to LAX. This route, the last flight of a space shuttle ever, gives people in Southern and Northern California plenty of opportunities to see this monstrous, 475,000 lb. combo flying overhead. From personal experience, I can tell you it is one of the most bizarre and awesome sights you will ever encounter. So, where are some good viewing sites?
Edwards Air Force Base is closed to the public today, so getting a good view of the shuttle and carrier aircraft approaching will take some creativity. You could always play dumb tourist and drive up to the gate and ask the guards. That’s actually not a bad idea, though you have to play it cool and not get nervous if they are carrying something larger than a handgun. Your best bet may be to find a spot along Rosamond or Highway 58. You should be able to see the shuttle and it’s transport early tomorrow morning as it flies over Palmdale and Lancaster. This may offer the best opportunity if you are intent on seeing it at Dryden.
From Edwards AFB, the shuttle will head up to the Bay Area and make a flyby of NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. She’ll make her farewell flyby at 1500 feet and will fly over the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge before the Ames flyby. No downtown flyovers are planned because Mount Sutro and the Sutro Tower are taller than the planned flyby elevation. This Herculean combination doesn’t exactly climb very fast.
Los Angeles will provide the most opportunity for viewing. Endeavour will fly over or near several major landmarks including the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood sign, and the downtown area including LA City Hall, at least one beach area (it is unclear if it will be an LA beach or a north Orange County beach), Universal Studios and Disneyland. Again, these flybys will be at 1500 feet giving anyone with a decent pro-sumer camera a good opportunity for a historic photo.
There you have it. As the 747 carries a spaceplane on its back one more time, you West Coaster Toasters will have some good opportunities to see it. Grab a lawn chair, bribe a doorman, and find a spot on top of one of LA’s skyscrapers to see it. Meanwhile, I’ll be drinking to another chapter closing in the space shuttle program.
Ave atque valle.
[Image Credit: NASA]