(Former aide corrects Mark Kelly quote in 7th paragraph,
changing "plane" to "spaceship")
* Endeavour heads to Los Angeles on Friday in final airborne
* Shuttle salutes former Congresswoman Giffords in Tucson
* Shuttle to move to museum next month in parade through
By Gene Blevins
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Sept 20 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 p.m.
local time (3:50 p.m. EDT) at Edwards, about 100 miles (160 km)
north of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert.
NASA retired its shuttle fleet last year after completing
the U.S. portion of the $100 billion International Space
Station, a permanently staffed research complex that is owned by
15 nations and orbits about 250 miles (400 km) 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 centers in Mississippi, Louisiana
and Texas before stopping for the night at Ellington Field near
the Johnson Space Center 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.
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 C.J. 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 program before the space agency
built a landing facility for the orbiters at the Kennedy Space
Center in Florida. Edwards then became the principal backup
landing spot for shuttles in case of bad weather at Cape
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
The 75-ton (68-tonne) 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
Center in downtown Los Angeles, where the shuttle will be put on
public display starting Oct. 30.
To make way for the mammoth orbiter along its 12-mile (19
km) 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 center has agreed to plant 1,000 new trees to
replace those slated for removal.
Endeavour was built as a replacement for Challenger, the
shuttle lost in a 1986 launch accident that killed seven
astronauts. It went on to fly 25 missions, including 12 to build
and outfit the space station, and logged nearly 123 million
miles (198 million km) in flight during 4,671 orbits.
Endeavour is the second of NASA's three surviving shuttles
to be sent to a museum. Discovery, NASA's oldest surviving
shuttle, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Steven
F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington.
Atlantis, which flew NASA's 135th and final shuttle mission
in July 2011, will be towed down the road to the Kennedy Space
Center Visitor Complex in November.
NASA lost a fourth shuttle, Columbia, in another fatal
accident in 2003. That shuttle was not replaced. A shuttle test
vehicle, Enterprise, which has never flown in space, was
delivered to a New York City museum.
On its way from Edwards to the Los Angeles airport,
Endeavour will soar atop its carrier jet on several last victory
laps over California, including flyovers above San Francisco,
Sacramento, Hollywood and even Disneyland at Anaheim. The
spaceship is expected to arrive at LAX sometime before noon
(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Tim Gaynor; Writing by Steve
Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)