Piggyback on a jumbo jet, the retired space shuttle lifted off the runway Thursday in Houston, Texas. After a quick fueling stop in El Paso, it moved on to New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson fly-over was a special request by astronaut Mark Kelly, who commanded Endeavour's last space flight. He and his wife, wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, live in Tucson.
The shuttle will overnight in Southern California before heading to the Bay Area. Former astronaut Millie Hughes-Fulford of San Francisco says she can't wait to see it, "I'm excited to see Endeavour come over. I'm sure I'll be with a couple million people watching her fly by, and it's a great day tomorrow."
Endeavour's final flight will bring an end to the 30 year long space shuttle program. The youngest orbiter in the fleet, Endeavour flew 25 missions and orbited the earth more than 4,500 times. Firsts include the first African American woman in space, the first Japanese astronaut in space, and the first married couple in orbit. She was a favorite of the astronaut corps, "It was able to build the space station, as an example," former shuttle astronaut Bo Bobko said. "So it was able to take things like school bus sized modules and put them on the station."
On the way to its final resting place in Los Angeles, Endeavour will make its first and last flight over Moffett Field, paying homage to NASA workers here.
"We're very proud of that, that it's paying tribute to the people who worked many years," said Donald James, NASA Ames' acting director of new ventures and communication. "The Space Shuttle's a little over 30 years old, and many people who are here now worked on it from the very very beginning." NASA Ames was instrumental in the development of the space shuttle program and in the creation of Endeavour itself. "We invented the space shuttle tiles here at NASA Ames," said James. "The very design of the shuttle itself was based on wind tunnel tests that were done here at Ames."
On Thursday, NASA Ames' Division Chief of Flight Operations Roy Williams threw a barbecue for his employees, in appreciation of their hard work in preparation for Friday's event. Williams has worked there for 27 years but has never seen a shuttle fly. That makes Friday's final flight the only he'll ever witness. Something he and his colleagues call bittersweet, "There's still more of NASA left," James said. "And we've got some exciting things coming in the future, and it's a great time to be in space exploration."
Eight to ten-thousand people are expected to pack into Moffett Field for Friday morning's once-in-a-lifetime low flyover. Along with those crowds, there is the anticipated onlooker traffic, intermingled with the usual morning rush hour.
California Highway Patrol officers hope drivers take heed, ahead of tomorrow's spectacle, "Whatever you do, please do not stop on the side of the roadway, because obviously this is going to be a distraction for people," CHP Officer D.J. Sarabia said. "Not only is it very unsafe to stop on the side of the freeway, it's also against the law."
There are several places to watch the shuttle flyover. At 8 a.m. a pajama party is planned at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland that costs $15.95 for adult tickets. Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science has a good view, be sure to bring binoculars and $1.50 for parking. Moffett Field in Mountain View is open to the public. But, the parking passes are sold out, so plan to take a train or bus and get there early as early as 6 a.m.
Endeavour's flight over the Bay Area has been delayed an hour due to fog. According to the new schedule, the 747 that's carrying Endeavor will lift-off from Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California around 8:15 a.m. and head north. It will pass over the state capitol in Sacramento sometime after 9 a.m., and then pass over the East Bay around 9:30 a.m. Right after that it will make a low-flying pass over the Golden Gate Bridge before a tribute flight above Moffett Field and NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View sometime between 10-10:30 a.m.
After that, it's back to Southern California for flyover spots including Disneyland. Endeavour's final destination is the California Science Center in Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
NASA is encouraging people to report Endeavour sightings on Twitter using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105, which is Endeavour's orbiter vehicle designation.
Also be sure to send tweets to @abc7newsBayArea.