9 AM and there’s already a crowd that stretches multiple city blocks along the chain-link fence above the southern runways of Los Angeles International Airport. Boeing, NASA, JPL, and Endeavor-enthusiast shirted fans are generously sprinkled throughout the blocked off roadway. The spectators range in age from the very young to the old. It’s a mostly cloudless day, thankfully, with the infamous LA smog obscuring only the most distant features of the city. I’m here with co-worker Andrew Breault and the growing crowd to witness the final moments of the last flight of the U.S. Shuttle Endeavour.
We burn a good fifteen minutes searching for a break in the line of spectators, many of whom staked their claim at four in the morning, or even earlier. Most of the early arrivals are armed with large telephoto lenses, camcorders, chairs, coolers, and even step ladders as we all wait for Endeavour’s arrival into LA airspace. Everyone starts out smiling and relaxed, content even, as they spend their entire morning preparing for what will be a brief opportunity to see the Shuttle mounted atop its Boeing 747 carrier aircraft. After a few hours and a tripling of the size of the crowd, patience starts to wear. For the most part, we loudly voice our concerns that the latecomers, who skirt the fence and the police, taking up positions on the embankment beyond the fence, will stand up during the flybys and obscure our early-won front row seats.
After three and a half hours of alternately sitting and standing on the shadeless sidewalk, a white blip emerges from the distant haze, followed by two even smaller specks that are the shuttle transport’s escorts. Excitement mounts as up and down the road, fans begin to stand and applaud. Over the next hour, we’re treated to a series of flybys, a landing, and a long slow taxi that marks the unfortunate end of an era in U.S. spaceflight.
Endeavour stopped just outside its month-long preparation space at the United Airlines hanger, where media, dignitaries, and lucky members of the public participated in an arrival ceremony. For the crowd of media and public gathered above the southern runways of LAX, the morning-long experience came to a quiet close as we walked back to our cars, energized by the chance to witness a part of history.
Check out some photos of the morning on INN’s Facebook page! We’ll be releasing an episode on Endeavour’s new “mission of inspiration” after her transport to the California Science Center in late October. Subscribe to INN’s YouTube channel to be notified of each new release.