Video: Endeavour completes victory lap

NBC News and news services
updated 9/22/2012 12:56:38 AM ET 2012-09-22T04:56:38

The space shuttle Endeavour finished its flying days for good on Friday with a sightseeing tour that crisscrossed California and ended up at Los Angeles' airport.

Strapped to the back of a 747 jumbo jet, the pair touched down just before 1 p.m. PT (4 p.m. ET) after a state-spanning flyover that lasted nearly five hours. One of the crew members stuck an American flag out of the hatch of the jet.

The flyover took Endeavour over the state Capitol, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood Sign and other icons en route to LAX, where the shuttle will be prepped for a slow-speed journey to its museum home next month.

At the Santa Monica Pier, spectators pointed their cameras skyward, and some chanted, "USA! USA!" as Endeavour swooped along the coast. "Even though it was a few seconds, it was a unique experience to witness history," said Andrew Lerner, 23, of Santa Monica.

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Thousands of spectators jammed rooftop buildings and streets in Sacramento, cheering as Endeavour made two loops around the state Capitol. A crowd of schoolchildren squealed in delight during the second flyover.

Matthew Montgomery took a break from his work as a legislative aide and brought his 2-year-old son, Tavion, to see Endeavour airborne. "I was going to leave him in daycare but thought this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal," said Montgomery, whose aunt was an engineer on the early Apollo missions.

Peggy Burke was among the hordes of camera-toting tourists who jammed the waterfront along the San Francisco Bay, reflecting on the end of an era.

"It's just a shame that the program has to end, but I'm so glad they came to the Bay Area, especially over the Golden Gate Bridge," she said. "Onward to Mars."

Because Endeavour buzzed by some of the Golden State's most iconic sights, law enforcement and transportation authorities warned motorists not to "gawk and drive."

"We want people to take in this majestic show," Los Angeles police Cmdr. Scott Kroeber said earlier this week. "But if you're driving, please drive and don't try to take in the show simultaneously."

Traffic came to a near stop along a freeway near the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory east of Los Angeles when motorists pulled off to the shoulder to watch. California Highway Patrol officers came through and blared on loud speakers for people to move on.

Extra officers were on duty along the freeways near the airport to make sure traffic flowed smoothly as the shuttle zoomed overhead. As Endeavour approached LAX, other airplanes were forced to circle and wait. Passengers on an American Airlines flight from Miami snapped pictures and shot video out their windows as the shuttle arrived.

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime event," said pilot Doug Causey, who has been flying for 29 years. "That was a real treat to see something like that."

Sentimental journey
The landing at LAX marked the end of a three-day cross-country trip from Endeavour's former home at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On Wednesday, the shuttle left Florida forever and made low passes over NASA facilities in Mississippi and Louisiana. The piggyback pair spent the night at Houston's Ellington Field, near the home of Mission Control at Johnson Space Center.

Image: Giffords and Kelly
P.K. Weis  /  Southwest Photo Bank via AP
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, watch the space shuttle Endeavor fly over Tucson, Ariz., on its way to California on Thursday.

On Thursday, Endeavour resumed its westward flight and made a special pass over Tucson, Ariz., to honor its last commander, Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords, who is recovering from a head wound she suffered during a mass shooting in Tucson last year, was "hooting and hollering" as Endeavour looped around her hometown, according to her former aide, C.J. Karamargin.

"That's my spaceship," Kelly said proudly.

Thursday afternoon's visit to Edwards Air Force Base brought Endeavour full circle: NASA's shuttle fleet, which retired last year after three decades of flight, was assembled in Palmdale near Edwards. The military outpost, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Los Angeles, served as the original shuttle landing strip and remained a backup site in case of stormy weather in Florida.

Officials in California played up the shuttle connection. "We're so excited to be welcoming Endeavour home in grand style with these flyovers," said Jeffrey Rudolph, president of the California Science Center.

The cost for shipping and handling Endeavour was estimated at $28 million, to be paid for by the science center.

Past and future
The youngest shuttle, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which blew up during liftoff in 1986. NASA lost another shuttle, Columbia, in 2003 when it disintegrated during re-entry. Fourteen astronauts were killed.

During 25 missions, Endeavour spent 299 days in space and orbited Earth nearly 4,700 times, racking up 123 million miles (198 million kilometers).

On its maiden flight in 1992, a trio of spacewalking astronauts grabbed a stranded communications satellite in for repair. It also flew the first repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope to fix a faulty mirror. But most of its flights ferried cargo and equipment to the International Space Station.

Under White House orders to explore beyond low-Earth orbit, NASA is hitching rides on Russian rockets to the orbiting laboratory until private companies can provide regular service.

Endeavour is the second of three remaining shuttles to head to its retirement home. In April, Discovery arrived at the Smithsonian Institution's hangar in Virginia. Atlantis, which closed out the shuttle program, will stay in Florida. It's due to be towed a short distance to the Kennedy Space Center's visitor center in the fall.

The prototype shuttle Enterprise, which was used in aerodynamic glide tests but never flew in space, was moved out of the Smithsonian to make room for Discovery. Enterprise was flown to John F. Kennedy International Airport, shipped up the Hudson River on a barge, and put on display at New York's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

Image: Endeavour over Hollywood
Mike Blake  /  Reuters
The space shuttle Endeavour and its carrier airplane are escorted by two jets as they pass in front of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles on Friday.

The piggyback flights of Discovery and Enterprise became popular photo opportunities. If anything, Endeavour's star turn was more elaborate — and more widely watched. But now, with Endeavour on the ground and Atlantis staying in Florida, such flights will be a thing of the past.

Endeavour will remain at an airport hangar for several weeks as crews ready the shuttle for its own road trip. Next month, it will creep through city streets on a wheeled transporter, heading for the California Science Center near downtown.

About 400 trees will be cleared along the 12-mile (20-kilometer) route to make room, a move that has riled some residents in affected neighborhoods. Museum officials have pledged to replant double the number of chopped trees.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and NBC News.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Space shuttle Endeavour's final trek

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  1. Endeavour's new home

    The space shuttle Endeavour arrives at the hangar at the California Science Center for its last stop on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Los Angeles. Endeavour arrived at the museum after a 12-mile parade with thousands of onlookers, ending with a greeting party of city leaders and other dignitaries. (Lawrence K. Ho / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Unfazed by the fuss

    Traymond Harris, left, and Ryan Hudge play basketball as the shuttle Endeavour passes by on Crenshaw Ave. in Inglewood, Calif., on Oct. 13, 2012. The iconic black and white orbiter, which flew 25 times to space over the past two decades, arrived at the California Science Center on Oct. 14 to begin its new mission as a museum exhibit. Endeavour had been scheduled to pull up at the CSC on Oct. 13, but natural and utility obstacles, as well as the need for maintenance of its transporters, slowed the pace of the shuttle's parade and delayed its arrival by a day. (Wally Skalij / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Nosy passerby

    A man takes a photo as space shuttle Endeavour passes by in Inglewood, Calif., on Oct. 13, 2012. Transporting Endeavour cross-town was a costly feat with an estimated price tag of $10 million, to be paid for by the science center and private donations. (Rick Loomis / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Sharing the view

    Children watch from a window as space shuttle Endeavour travels to the California Science Center on Crenshaw Blvd. in Inglewood, Calif., on Oct. 13. (Jeff Gritchen / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. On parade

    The space shuttle Endeavour make its way down Manchester Blvd. in Los Angeles on Oct. 12, 2012. Movers had planned a slow trip, saying the shuttle that once orbited at more than 17,000 mph would move at just 2 mph in its final voyage through Inglewood and southern Los Angeles. But that estimate turned out to be generous, with Endeavour often creeping along at a barely detectable pace when it wasn't at a dead stop due to difficult-to-maneuver obstacles like tree branches and light posts (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Take a right at the light

    Space shuttle Endeavour makes a right turn onto Manchester Ave. in Los Angeles while being moved from Los Angeles International Airport to its retirement home at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, on Oct. 12. (Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Doughnut break

    Space shuttle Endeavour stops in front of Randy's Donuts as it's transported from Los Angeles International Airport to its retirement home at the California Science Center in Exposition Park in Los Angeles on Oct. 12. (Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Posing with the shuttle

    Mifumi Nakajima takes a picture of her husband, Nozomo Nakajima, holding their children Leigha Nakajima, 3, and Eli Nakajima, 6 mos., in front of the space shuttle Endeavour in a mall parking lot on Oct. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles. The Endeavour is making the journey from Los Angeles International Airport to the California Science Center to go on permanent public display. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Hitting the road

    A police officer stands near space shuttle Endeavour as it leaves Los Angeles International Airport and is transported on city streets to the California Science Center in Los Angeles on Oct. 12, 2012. Endeavour began a two-day ground journey atop a massive wheeled transporter to its final resting place at the science center on the edge of downtown Los Angeles. (Jason Redmond / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Dawn of a new era for Endeavour

    Cranes lower the space shuttle Endeavour onto a wheeled platform that will serve as the overland transporter early Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, at Los Angeles International Airport. In a few weeks Endeavour will be towed through city streets to its new home at the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles. (Bill Ingalls / NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Arriving at LAX

    The space shuttle Endeavour, mounted on a 747 airliner, passes over the 405 freeway in Los Angeles on a low-level flyover at Los Angeles International Airport on Sept. 21, 2012. Endeavour's arrival at LAX completed a three day, cross-country farewell tour. The last leg of the trip, from Edwards Air Force Base to Los Angeles, marked the final airborne journey for any of NASA's three surviving shuttles. In October, Endeavour will travel through Los Angeles' streets to the California Science Center. (Fred Prouser / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Waiting for a view

    Spectators wait for the space shuttle Endeavour to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Sept. 21. Hundreds of people turned up as early as 6 a.m. to secure a good viewing spot for the arrival. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Hollywood debut

    The space shuttle Endeavour, perched atop its modified 747 carrier jet, is escorted by two other planes as it passes in front of Los Angeles' Hollywood sign on Sept. 21. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Shuttle at the Golden Gate

    The space shuttle Endeavour and its carrier airplane make a pass over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge on Sept. 21, 2012, during Endeavour's final flight. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. San Francisco treat

    A spectator takes pictures of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge while waiting for Endeavour on Sept. 21. (John G. Mabanglo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Back in California

    The space shuttle Endeavour sits atop its carrier aircraft, a 747 jumbo jet, at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Sept. 20, 2012. Its arrival at Edwards was a homecoming of sorts for the California-made spacecraft, which was built as a replacement for Challenger. Endeavour made its way to California from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, via Texas. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Over the mountains

    The space shuttle Endeavour is ferried by NASA's shuttle carrier aircraft over the Organ Mountains in Las Cruces, N.M., on Sept. 20. Endeavour was making its way from Houston's Ellington Field to Edwards Air Force Base in California. (Robin Zielinski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Honoring the last commander

    Thousands of students and faculty on the Mall of the University of Arizona, left, look up as the Endeavour flies over Tucson on Sept. 20. Also on the campus, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords waves to the shuttle with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords retired from the House after suffering serious head injuries during a 2011 shooting attack. Months after the attack, Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander. (EPA, Southwest Photo Bank) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Buzzing the Texas State Capitol

    Endeavour flies past the Texas State Capitol in downtown Austin, en route to California on the morning of Sept. 20. (Marco Hanson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Houston, we have a shuttle

    The space shuttle Endeavour and its carrier jet fly over Houston on Sept. 19. Endeavour made an overnight stopover in Houston, the home of Johnson Space Center, which houses the agency's astronaut training facilities and Mission Control. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Crowds at Ellington Field

    The Endeavour flies over Ellington Field in Houston on Sept. 19. (David J. Phillip / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Fans in Florida

    Jorgen and Ruth Sabinsky watch as the shuttle Endeavour and its carrier jet fly over Cocoa Beach, Fla., shortly after the start of its cross-country journey from Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 19. (Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Leaving Kennedy Space Center

    Bolted on top of a modified jumbo jet, Endeavour makes its departure from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 19. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Perched for flight

    A bird sits on a stake near the space shuttle Endeavour and its carrier jet at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 17, during preparations for the shuttle's cross-country piggyback flight to California. (Bill Ingalls / NASA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Shuttles face off

    Two space shuttles face each other as Endeavour backs out of the Orbiter Processing Facility and Atlantis is moved out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on Aug. 16, 2012, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Endeavour was being processed for its piggyback flight to California, while Atlantis was being prepared for display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. NASA's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building rises in the background. (Roberto Gonzalez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Lawrence K. Ho / Pool via AP
    Above: Slideshow (25) Endeavour's final trek
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    Slideshow (29) Shuttle Endeavour, this is your life

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