How odd to see this magnificent flying machine bound to Earth and squeezing between power poles on a 12-mile journey to its exhibition space at the California Science Center. The soaring bird that performed balletic moves while docking with the space station at 17,000 mph now toddles along with great care at 2 mph.
Endeavour should arrive at the museum at 9 p.m. local time this evening. There the 75-ton spacecraft will be placed on permanent exhibit in a new addition that’s still under construction. While it hurts a little to be reminded of the shuttle program’s suspension, it’s heartening to think of the millions of people who will get to stand next to the shiny beast and be inspired by what it represents.
The picture brightens more when you consider how private firms like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace and others have taken up the slack by building their own suborbital vehicles that will one day take humans into space. Earlier this week, SpaceX successfully docked their Dragon cargo ship with the space station. OK, I don’t feel so bad now.
Today will involve some tight turns and strange sights including the wingtips of the beast gliding over homeowners’ driveways. Families have been warned to stay inside. Wish I could be there – I sense many a wonderful photo opportunity.
During its lifetime, the Endeavour shuttle visited the space station 25 times and put 123 million miles on its odometer or nearly the average distance from Earth to Mars (140 million) before ending its final mission last June. High points in its career and those of the astronauts who piloted it include missions to correct the Hubble Space Telescope’s flawed optics (1993) and numerous flights to transport key lab modules including those lovely cupola windows for installation on the space station.
Endeavour became something of a celebrity on May 23, 2011 when astronaut Paolo Nespoli snapped the first-ever portrait of a shuttle docked to the space station as he departed for Earth aboard a Soyuz capsule.
The other three surviving shuttles are or will be in museums out East. Discovery is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington; Enterprise at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City; and Atlantis will be exhibited at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.