Space shuttle Endeavour home after final flight

Space shuttle Endeavour and its 747 carrier aircraft soar over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Photo / AP
Space shuttle Endeavour and its 747 carrier aircraft soar over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Photo / AP

The US space shuttle Endeavour took its final flight on Friday (local time), making a spectacular series of flypasts over California before landing in Los Angeles where it will retire near its birthplace.

Riding piggyback on a specially fitted Boeing 747, the shuttle flew over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge before heading south to take in the Hollywood sign and Disneyland, later landing at LA International Airport (LAX).

"It's so cool, and so sad," said Todd Unger, 28, among thousands who camped out from the early hours at the Griffith Observatory overlooking the city and the nearby iconic hilltop Tinseltown sign.

"It's the end of an era. But it shows what America can do, we can be really proud," he added, waving a Stars and Stripes flag as the shuttle banked over the Hollywood Hills.

Cars were parked bumper-to-bumper up the winding roads leading up to the observatory, as Angelenos turned out en masse in several parts of the city to witness Endeavour's final flight.

The shuttle had spent the night at Edwards Air Force Base north of Los Angeles, the last leg after a two-day trip across the country from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Before reaching the West Coast, it flew over Tucson, Arizona, to honour former lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a horrific shooting last year and whose astronaut husband Mark Kelly commanded Endeavour's final mission.

"It was pretty spectacular... The people of Tucson got an incredible view of this remarkable machine," Kelly told CNN, adding, "It's really a testament to American ingenuity."

After arriving on Friday afternoon (local time), the shuttle will spend a few weeks at a United Airlines hangar at LAX, before being transferred to the California Science Center, where it will go on display on October 30.

Endeavour, which flew more than 185 million km in its two-decade career, completed its final mission last year.

After the space agency Nasa brought an end to the 30-year shuttle program last year, major US cities battled for the right to house one of the shuttles.

Enterprise, the prototype that never flew into space, is now on permanent display on the runway of the Intrepid aircraft carrier in New York.

The Kennedy Space Center will keep Atlantis, and Discovery is on display at a museum outside Washington.

Two other shuttles were destroyed in flight. Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff in 1986 and Columbia broke apart on re-entry to Earth in 2003. Both disasters killed everyone on board.

Endeavour's trip to Los Angeles is a homecoming of sorts. It was built in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, as a replacement for Challenger.

Its last, 19.3km road trip to its final destination is scheduled to take two days, starting on October 12.

That operation is not without controversy: locals have protested because some 400 trees are being cut down along the route, and power lines and other obstacles reconfigured, to make way for the giant winged space craft.

The California Science Centre has promised to replant four times as many trees as are removed.

"Before the Endeavour lands at its final destination, there's one more leg on its amazing journey," LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

"In less than a month, we'll have a chance to see a site as impressive as today's flyover - the Endeavour travelling through our streets and hundreds of thousands of people cheer it on."

-AFP

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