Chasing Endeavour’s Last Flight Down the California Coast

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Chasing Endeavour’s Last Flight Down the California Coast

It has been in the news all week that the space shuttle Endeavour would be doing a fly by of the Bay Area this morning.  (Originally it was supposed to be yesterday, but weather reports of fog in San Francisco [duh] caused them to delay it by a day.)  Given that I had an 11 AM flight out of OAK, I knew this meant I would miss seeing the shuttle buzz the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.  When NASA was being cryptic about the specific time Endeavour, riding atop a 747, would fly over the area, I thought it might mean that I would miss it all together.  Even worse, the shuttle was flying to LAX, where I was also flying, and it seemed there was a chance I would just miss it there too.

But man, oh man, did I hit the jackpot instead.

First, while waiting for my flight to board in Oakland, the shuttle did a low flyby of the Oakland Airport runway at about 10:15 AM.  It was an awesome site to behold.  Then, about 10 minutes later, it came by again, though further away.  Another 5 or so minutes later, we got a third glimpse of it as a silhouette flying above the hills in the distance.  As Endeavour faded off into the distance, it was time to board my first flight of the day and chase the shuttle down to LA, where I had only a 45 minute layover.

The flight was relatively uneventful, until we were about to land.  The captain announced the descent and told us it was time to fasten our seatbelts and turn off electronic devices.  I continued reading my dead-tree book and waited for landing when the captain came over the intercom again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that we have an usual situation here.  Due to the flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, we’re in a holding pattern.  We weren’t expecting this.  It’s not something the military tells civilians about in advance.  I believe the report is that Endeavour is landing at LAX right now.  But if we’re lucky, we’ll have a view of it while we’re taxiing on the runway.”

Hmm, I thought to myself, I guess this means I should have my camera handy when we land.  And shortly thereafter the captain came on again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it seems I was mistaken about Endeavour having already landed.  If you look out the left side of the plane, you should be able to see it.”

At this point, I believe I violated FAA regulations by unbuckling my seatbelt, getting up, and turning on an electronic device — my camera.  I had an aisle seat, but I was determined to get a view out of the left side of the plane.  Luckily for me, the gentleman in the window seat was more than willing to let me (and my camera!) use his seat for a few minutes.  By sheer luck, I managed to get a shot of the Endeavour passing in front of the Hollywood sign.  [Incidentally, that photo is the only tweet I’ve ever had get tweeted by multiple random strangers.]

Soon thereafter, we were cleared for landing… and noted that everyone at LAX was watching us land.  Because the Endeavour was about to land her final flight right behind us.  Or so we, and our pilot, guessed.

Except apparently not exactly like that.  After deplaning, I immediately joined the crowd at the gate window, just in time for Endeavour to do a low flyby of LAX.  (She was still going to do one more loop around LA before landing, apparently.)  That was the closest, most detailed shot I got of the shuttle as it flew directly over our window.  It was unreal.

Unfortunately, and this was my only bad luck of the day (did I mention I also got upgraded to first class?), I was boarding my flight when Endeavour actually landed.  There was even a special announcement by the gate agent: “Ladies and gentlemen, I know the shuttle is flying over, but we need to board the flight so it’s not delayed further.”  I pushed it as much as I could, but alas, I missed the landing.  I did however, see her two more times: once from the ground while taxiing to take-off and once more from above as we took off and flew directly over her.

Farewell, Endeavour and the US Space Shuttle program.  I hope we send more of you up there soon.

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