The space shuttle Endeavour takes to the skies above California for its last-ever flight today (Sept. 21), giving observers from Sacramento to Los Angeles a one last chance to see a NASA shuttle soar through the air atop a jumbo jet.
Endeavour's historic California aerial tour will cap a three-day trip from its homeport at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Los Angeles, where the orbiter will ultimately become a museum showpiece at the California Science Center. The shuttle left Florida on Wednesday (Sept. 19) and made a stopover in Houston (home of NASA's Johnson Space Center, astronaut corps and mission control rooms) before completing its journey west.
Today, Endeavour will begin its state-wide flyover with a takeoff from Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California at about 8:15 a.m. PDT (11:15 a.m. EDT/1515 GMT). The shuttle, riding piggyback on a modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft, will make low flyovers over Edwards — home of NASA's first shuttle landings — and NASA's nearby Dryden Flight Research Center.
Shuttle fans across the country and around the world can tune into NASA's broadcast to watch Endeavour's departure from Dryden and Edwards. The space agency will broadcast the shuttle's takeoff live on its NASA TV channel and via a webcast, which begins at 8 a.m. PDT (11 a.m. EDT/1500 GMT). [Photos of Shuttle Endeavour's Final Ferry Flight]
You can watch the shuttle's takeoff online here: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv
NASA is also encouraging the public to share their shuttle Endeavour viewing experiences by posting messages and photos on the social networking website Twitter using the hashtags #spottheshuttle and #OV105. The latter tag refers to Endeavour's vehicle number designation.
After leaving Dryden and Edwards Air Force Base, Endeavour and its Shuttle Carrier Aircraft will head north to make early-morning flyovers of Sacramento, California's capitol city. Then the shuttle will head to the Bay Area.
"Any time after 9:30 a.m. PDT, watch for Endeavour from viewing locations that include the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Chabot Space and Science Center, the California State Capitol, Exploratorium, Lawrence Hall of Science and Monterey Bay Aquarium," NASA officials said in an announcement Thursday.
Next, Endeavour turns south to soar over NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, and later Vandenberg Air Force Base, which has long served as a launch site for NASA and Air Force satellites. Then, it will be time for Endeavour's grand Los Angeles arrival.
"Any time after 11:30 a.m., watch for flyovers of Endeavour passing regional landmarks such as its future home at the California Science Center, Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey, Disneyland, The Getty Center, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles City Hall, the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, Malibu Beach, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the Queen Mary, Universal Studios and Venice Beach, among others," NASA officials said.
NOTE: NASA officials warn that all times for Endeavour's ferry flight are weather dependent. So delays and possible changes to the plan are possible.
Endeavour is expected to land at Los Angeles International Airport at 12:45 p.m. PDT (3:45 p.m. EDT/1945 GMT), and will be greeted with an official arrival ceremony before the shuttle is hoisted off its 747 carrier plane. The shuttle will wait at LAX until October to be transported to the California Science Center.
On Oct. 12 and 13, Endeavour will parade up the streets of Los Angeles to make its final trek from LAX to the California Science Center. The public display of the shuttle at the center will open on Oct. 30.
Endeavour is NASA's youngest space shuttle and is the only orbiter to go on public display in California, the birthplace of the U.S. shuttle fleet. The orbiters were built at a facility in Palmdale, Calif., and occasionally returned for service overhauls during NASA's 30-year space shuttle program.
NASA built Endeavour as a replacement for the orbiter lost in the tragic Challenger shuttle disaster of January 1986, which killed seven astronauts. Endeavour made its first flight in 1992 and was retired in June 2011 after completing its final mission. In all, the shuttle launched 25 space missions and flew nearly 123 million miles during its spaceflight career.
Endeavour is the third of four space shuttles heading to museums this year. In April, the shuttle Discovery went on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center annex in Chantilly, Va.
In July, NASA's prototype shuttle Enterprise (which never flew in space, but was pivotal for early landing tests) went on public display in New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
On Nov. 2, NASA's remaining space shuttle Atlantis will be towed from its hangar at the Kennedy Space Center to the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, where its own museum display will open to the public in summer 2013.
NASA retired its space shuttle fleet after 30 years of spaceflight and 135 missions in July 2011. The space agency plans to use privately built space taxis to ferry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit, while at the same time developing its own new spacecraft and rockets for deep-space manned missions to an asteroid and beyond.
If you snap a photo of Endeavour ferry flight overhead, share your photos with SPACE.com and partner collectSPACE.com! Send in your snapshots of Endeavour atop its Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to SPACE.com managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org and collectSPACE at contact@collectSPACE.com.