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Endeavour tour includes Porterville flyover
Few residents see it, fewer get a photo
While the route the shuttle Endeavour was to take during its California flyover Friday was a pretty closely kept secret, a few Porterville residents lucky enough to get some notice or simply heard on the radio were able to catch a glimpse of the final flight of the shuttle.
It was the space shuttle Endeavour, zigzagging around California where it was born and where it will spend its golden years as a museum showpiece.
From the state Capitol to the Golden Gate Bridge to the Hollywood sign, thousands of spectators pointed their cellphones and cameras skyward as the shuttle, riding piggyback atop a 747 jumbo jet, buzzed past.
“I waited 26 years for it,” saId Tom Bear who was able to capture a photo of it as it flew over the western edge of Porterville at about 9:15 Friday morning.
The jumbo jet took off from Edwards Air Force base about 8:45 a.m. and the jet flew over several of the desert communities, including Lancaster before heading west. It was not known until this morning that it was going over the Sierra and into the Valley and then up the east side of the Valley to Sacramento, San Francisco and then back south to its eventual stop at Los Angeles International Airport.
Bear said he had heard on the radio that it might come over Porterville and then he heard the roar of the engines of the big 747 and the military jet escort. The shuttle was reportedly at 12,000 feet as it passed overhead.
“It was kind of cool,” said Bear.
Jay Rice said he saw it. “I saw it fly over. Amazing site,” he replied to The Recorder’s question on Facebook. “Yes was pretty cool kinda scary. (I was) hoping it wouldn’t fall off,” wrote Aime Navarro.
However, few people were able to catch it as it was gone as fast as it arrived.
“My husband was out looking for it, didn’t see it,” replied Debbie Dancey.
For those throughout the state that did see it, they were impressed.
“It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was historic, momentous,” said Daniel Pifko, who rode by motorcycle to a hilly peninsula north of San Francisco to snap a few pictures of the iconic bridge.
Across California, throngs swarmed rooftops for one last glimpse of Endeavour airborne.
Parents pulled their kids out of school. Some became misty-eyed, while others chanted “USA! USA!” as the shuttle soared overhead.
Gina Oberholt screamed for joy when she spotted Endeavour from a scenic overlook in Los Angeles. She felt a bit nostalgic because her uncle had worked as a shuttle technician.
“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the shuttle program,” she said.
Known as the baby shuttle, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which exploded during liftoff in 1986. Endeavour rolled off the assembly line in the Mojave Desert in 1991 and a year later, rocketed to space. It left Earth 25 times, logging 123 million miles.
Friday’s high-flying tour was a homecoming of sorts.
After a nearly five-hour loop that took Endeavour over some of the state’s most treasured landmarks, it turned for its final approach, coasting down the runway on the south side of the Los Angeles International Airport, where elected officials and VIPS gathered for an arrival ceremony.
As the jumbo jet taxied to the hangar, an American flag popped out of the jet’s hatch. Endeavour will stay at the airport for several weeks as crew prepare it for its final mission: a 12-mile trek through city streets to the California Science Center, its new permanent home, where it will go on display Oct. 30.
NASA retired the shuttle fleet last year to focus on destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.
Before Endeavour was grounded for good, Californians were treated to an aerial farewell.
Endeavour took off from the Mojave Desert Friday after an emotional cross-country ferry flight that made a special flyover of Tucson, Ariz., to honor its last commander, Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
It circled the high desert that gave birth to the shuttle fleet before veering to Northern California. After looping twice around the state Capitol, it swung over to the San Francisco Bay area and Silicon Valley and then headed down the coast, entering the Los Angeles air space over the Santa Monica Pier.
“Even though it was a few seconds, it was a unique experience to witness history,” said Andrew Lerner, who gathered at the pier with his parents.
Along the flyover route, the mood was festive at times. At the Griffith Observatory, overlooking the Hollywood sign, a group of middle school children on a field trip broke out in song, giggling and belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The cost for shipping and handling Endeavour was estimated at $28 million, to be paid for by the science center. NASA officials have said there was no extra charge to fly over Tucson because it was on the way.
Endeavor’s carefully choreographed victory lap was by far the most elaborate of the surviving shuttle fleet. Discovery is home at the Smithsonian Institution’s hangar in Virginia after flying over the White House and National Mall. Atlantis will remain in Florida, where it will be towed a short distance to the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor center in the fall.