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Endeavour marks final flight

September 21, 2012

The US space shuttle Endeavour has taken flight for the final time, flying by California crowds and landmarks. It was the last leg of a two-day, cross-country trip that ends in retirement in Los Angeles.

The space shuttle Endeavour, atop NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, flies over the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida in this September 19, 2012 NASA handout photo. The SCA, a modified 747 jetliner is flying Endeavour to Los Angeles where it will be placed on public display at the California Science Center.
Image: Reuters

The space shuttle Endeavour departed Edwards Air Force base early Friday morning, piggybacked on top of a 747 jumbo jet.

It flew over a series of Californian landmarks that included Disneyland and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge as well as the state capital of Sacramento.

Its scheduled departure was postponed by around an hour due to fog over the San Francisco Bay area, but it landed safely at Los Angeles international airport several hours later. The space shuttle began its journey Wednesday in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Tens of thousands gather to watch

Tens of thousands of onlookers packed into the Los Angeles' Griffin Park Observatory and the surrounding area in the Hollywood Hills to see the 75-ton spacecraft's final moments in the air. Crowds cheered at Endeavour's three low-altitude passes, each closer than the previous.

Before reaching the west coast, the shuttle passed by Tucson, Arizona to honor former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a shooting last year. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a retired astronaut who commanded the Endeavour's final mission.

"It was pretty spectacular … The people of Tucson got an incredible view of this remarkable machine," Kelly told CNN. "It's really a testament to American ingenuity."

Nearly 123 million miles flown

NASA ended its space shuttle program last year after three decades of operation. Endeavour was built in California as a replacement for the Challenger, which blew up shortly after launch in 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Endeavour went on to fly 25 missions during 18 years of service, logging nearly 123 million miles (198 million km) in flight during 4,671 orbits. It is one of three surviving shuttles to be sent to a museum in the US.

Discovery, NASA's oldest shuttle, is on display at the Smithsonian Institute outside Washington. Atlantis, which flew the final shuttle mission in July, 2011, is set to go on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Columbia suffered a fatal accident in 2003 and was never replaced.

dr/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)