That was my wake-up call for a chance to catch a glimpse of history. As you know, NASA’s Space Shuttle program was recently shutdown. The remaining shuttles were put up for bid by museums and educational institutions. The California Science Center in Los Angeles was lucky enough to land one of the three fully functional shuttles — Space Shuttle Endeavour. During its final voyage to LA, it went on a whirlwind tour of California on the back of the 747 transport plane used to carry the shuttles around. Unfortunately, I was unable to witness the fly-by show. A pretty big disappoint as I have always had a fondness for science and technology. But I was not going to miss the moving of Endeavour from LAX to its final destination at the Science Center.
I am fortunate enough to have grown up in the day and age of the Space Shuttle program. One of the most lasting memories I have is of the day when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart shortly after take-off on January 28, 1986 — killing all the astronauts on-board. This particular flight was extra special due to teacher Christa McAuliffe being on-board. I remember being corralled into my elementary school’s media center to watch the launch. I also remember the pure shock and dismay on the faces of my fellow students and teachers. The tears and sadness are unforgettable.
A few years later, I was able to take a field trip to witness the landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at Edwards Air Force Base. It was a really small group of us who went and is something I will never forget. I remember watching Atlantis drifting to a perfect landing after entering the Earth’s atmosphere with its trademark double sonic boom.
I was ready to leave for the drive to LA. After my buddy Joel made it over, we were quickly on the road. I had a game plan all set and if everything worked out, we would soon be looking at Endeavour — live!
It couldn’t have worked out any better. We got there shortly before 6am and we were able to park a block away from the starting point of Endeavour’s move day. Upon first seeing the shuttle sitting on its transport vehicles, I was in complete awe. It was absolutely crazy to see the shuttle sitting in the middle of the street — all lit up and what must have been a hundred people surrounding it. It was early but you could tell people were there all night. There were all kinds of people, from little kids being handed Space Shuttle stickers, to adults of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. Everyone was staring at Endeavour. Wide eyed. Smiling. Giggling. Pointing. Shocked.
It soon started to move and we were off to watch it navigate through the streets of LA. Moving at 2mph, it wasn’t going to get out of our sight. We walked in parallel with it. Along sidewalks, through parking lots, and even a quick zip through a parking structure to head it off. There were times when we would run to get far enough in front to stage ourselves for its passing by. We were even able to climb onto the roof of a strip of businesses to get an eye-level view of the shuttle. All the while, the crowds witnessing this historic moment were slowly becoming larger and larger.
When Endeavour finally reached the Forum for a planned break and viewing celebration, we had walked, ran, and chased after the shuttle for over 1 mile and more than 2 hours. It was awesome. I was so pleased, thrilled, beside myself…
And still in awe.