LOS ANGELES ‚Äî Space shuttle Endeavour landed safely at the Los Angeles International Airport Friday after a whirlwind aerial tour around California landmarks.
Strapped to the back of a 747 jumbo jet, the pair touched down around 1 p.m. after a nearly five-hour flyover. One of the crew members stuck an American flag out of the hatch of the jet.
The flyover took Endeavour over the state Capitol, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood Sign and other icons en route to the Los Angeles airport, where the shuttle will be prepped for a slow-speed journey to its museum home next month.
At the Santa Monica Pier, spectators pointed their cameras skyward and some chanted, “USA! USA!” as Endeavour swooped along the coast.
“Even though it was a few seconds, it was a unique experience to witness history,” said Andrew Lerner, 23, of Santa Monica.
Thousands of spectators jammed rooftop buildings and streets in Sacramento, cheering as Endeavour made two loops around the state Capitol. A crowd of schoolchildren squealed in delight during the second flyover.
Matthew Montgomery took a break from his work as a legislative aide and brought his 2-year-old son, Tavion, to see Endeavour airborne.
“I was going to leave him in daycare but thought this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” said Montgomery, whose aunt was an engineer on the early Apollo missions.
Since Endeavour buzzed by some of the Golden State’s most iconic sights, law enforcement and transportation authorities warned motorists not to “gawk and drive.”
“We want people to take in this majestic show,” Los Angeles police Cmdr. Scott Kroeber said earlier this week. “But if you’re driving, please drive and don’t try to take in the show simultaneously.”
Traffic came to a near stop along a freeway near the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory east of Los Angeles when motorists pulled off to the shoulder to watch. California Highway Patrol officers came through and blared on loud speakers for people to move on.
Extra officers were on duty along the freeways near the airport to make sure traffic flowed smoothly as the shuttlezoomed overhead.
Endeavour returned to its birthplace Thursday after an emotional cross-country ferry flight that made a special flyover of Tucson, Ariz., to honor its last commander, Mark Kelly, and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
NASA’s shuttlefleet, which retired last year after three decades of flight, was assembled in Palmdale near Edwards Air Force Base where Endeavour took off Friday morning for the aerial tour. The military outpost 100 miles north of Los Angeles served as the original shuttle landing strip and remained a backup site in case of stormy weather at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
“We’re so excited to be welcoming Endeavour home in grand style with these flyovers,” Jeffrey Rudolph, president of the California Science Center, said earlier this week.
The youngest shuttle, Endeavour replaced Challenger, which blew up during liftoff in 1986. NASA lost another shuttle, Columbia, in 2003 when it disintegrated during re-entry. Fourteen astronauts were killed.
During 25 missions, Endeavour spent 299 days in space and orbited Earth nearly 4,700 times, racking up 123 million miles.
On its maiden flight in 1992, a trio of spacewalking astronauts grabbed a stranded communications satellite in for repair. It also flew the first repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope to fix a faulty mirror. But most of its flights ferried cargo and equipment to the International Space Station, which is near completion.
Under White House orders to explore beyond low-Earth orbit, NASA is hitching rides on Russian rockets to the orbiting laboratory until private companies can provide regular service.
Endeavour is the second of three remaining shuttlesto head to its retirement home. In April, Discovery arrived at the Smithsonian Institution’s hangar in Virginia. Atlantis, which closed out the shuttleprogram, will stay in Florida where it will be towed a short distance to the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor center in the fall.
Endeavour will remain at an airport hangar for several weeks as crews ready the shuttlefor its own road trip. Unlike Atlantis, it will creep through city streets to the California Science Center near downtown.
Some 400 trees will be cleared along the 12-mile route to make room, a move that has riled some residents in affected neighborhoods. Museum officials have pledged to replant double the number of chopped trees.