Space shuttle lands in California

2012-09-21 09:32
The Space Shuttle Endeavour is ferried by Nasa's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) over the Organ Mountians in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Robin Zielinski, The Las Cruces Sun-News, AP)

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is ferried by Nasa's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) over the Organ Mountians in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Robin Zielinski, The Las Cruces Sun-News, AP)

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Edwards Air Force Base - The space shuttle Endeavour, carried piggyback atop a jumbo jet, landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Thursday at the tail end of a cross-country trip to Los Angeles to begin its final mission as a museum exhibit.

The specially modified Boeing 747 with the newly retired spaceship perched on its back touched down safely at 12:50 local time  at Edwards, about 160km north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert.

Nasa retired its shuttle fleet last year after completing the US portion of the $100bn International Space Station, a permanently staffed research complex that is owned by 15 nations and orbits about 400km above Earth.

Endeavour embarked on its last cross-county "ferry" journey on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and made several low-altitude passes over Nasa centres in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas before stopping for the night at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

The trip resumed early on Thursday, with Endeavour and its carrier jet making additional flyovers - one over Tucson, Arizona, in a salute to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut who commanded Endeavour's final flight on his last mission in late May 2011.

Backup

Giffords, still recuperating from a gunshot wound to the head suffered in an attempt on her life last year, watched the flyover from the roof of a Tucson parking garage with her husband and mother, according to former aide CJ Karamargin, who joined them.

"When it came into view, Mark said, 'There's my spaceship!'" Karamargin recounted. "Gabby was just elated, hooting and hollering like the rest of us were."

From Arizona, Endeavour and its carrier jet flew on to California, where the spacecraft was built two decades ago, for the landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

The sprawling installation used to serve as the primary landing site for Nasa's shuttle programme before the space agency built a landing facility for the orbiters at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Edwards then became the principal backup landing spot for shuttles in case of bad weather at Cape Canaveral.

Endeavour made seven landings at Edwards during its active tenure at Nasa, most recently in November 2008.

The shuttle was scheduled to depart Edwards on Friday for its very last ferry flight, and the final airborne journey of the entire space shuttle fleet, headed for Los Angeles International Airport.

The 75 ton winged spacecraft will then undergo preparations to be moved next month through city streets from the airport to its permanent home at the California Science Centre in downtown Los Angeles, where the shuttle will be put on public display starting on 30 Oct0ber.

To make way for the mammoth orbiter along its 19km route to the museum, crews are cutting down nearly 400 trees, raising overhead utility wires and temporarily removing hundreds of utility poles, street lights and traffic signals. The science centre has agreed to plant 1 000 new trees to replace those slated for removal.

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