Endeavour and its host NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft make a final flight over Edwards Air Force Base Sept. 21. Dryden is visible on the upper right. (NASA/Jim Ross) › View Larger Image
People from all over California enthusiastically watched the skies for a glimpse of space shuttle Endeavour and its host, NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, Sept. 21 as they flew by a number of communities and landmarks on their way to Los Angeles International Airport.
Endeavour arrived a day earlier at Edwards Air Force Base on the last stop of its final ferry flight. NASA Dryden employees and family members were welcomed to see the orbiter on Dryden's back ramp, news media were on hand to catch the landing and a "NASA Social" introduced Dryden to a number of new friends, followers of NASA social media accounts.
Dryden has been a part of Endeavour's support from STS-49, its first mission that landed at Edwards in 1992, and was the staging area for the last leg of its final ferry flight into history.
The nine-day STS-49 mission included the capture of the inoperable INTELSAT VI communications satellite and replacement of its rocket motor. It took three attempts to capture the satellite for repair. This mission marked the first time three space shuttle astronauts walked in space simultaneously, and it also was the first time four space walks took place on the same shuttle mission.
Former Dryden public affairs chief Don Haley recalled the arrival of Endeavour's first landing, which occurred on May 16, 1992.
"To celebrate that first flight and landing, public affairs contacted schools from the Antelope Valley to the coast to invite students to view the landing here at Dryden," Haley recalled. "We would have had hundreds of buses and many thousands of school kids watch the landing from the ramp, but the flight was postponed for a couple of days and many of the school districts couldn't recover and recycle for the new landing day," he said.
However, about 3,500 students were still able to view the landing, according to the May 29, 1992 issue of the X-Press. The landing also attracted about 15,000 visitors to Dryden and an estimated 100,000 people watched the conclusion of Endeavour's maiden flight from the east shore viewing site on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards.
"With the Endeavour going now to the (California Science Center) museum, it'll be nice for those kids who watched that first landing here to visit the Endeavour display once it's set up and show their kids and grandkids the shuttle they saw land at Edwards many years ago," Haley said. "It might even draw a tear or two."
Former Dryden Center Director Ken Szalai recalled attending Endeavour's rollout ceremony in Palmdale.
"It demonstrated a strong government leadership commitment to human spaceflight after the tragic loss of the crew of Challenger," he said.
The landings of shuttles were all special, as everyone wanted to see the orbiters return to land at Edwards.
"Although I was director of Dryden when Endeavour returned, I was just one of thousands watching the skies for the thruster bursts about 50,000 feet right above us and anticipating the double sonic boom," Szalai recollected. "I joined in the involuntary cheer when we spotted the orbiter on a steep final approach. As an engineer, I looked down, and up, and knew they had the runway made!
"I watched Buck Rogers and other fantasy rockets on TV and on the silver screen as a kid," he added. "But this was a REAL spacecraft returning from orbit. Wow!"
Like the sea-faring ship for which Endeavour was named, Szalai noted similarities between the two ships and their mission.
"Capt. Cook commanded the H.M.S Endeavour on a lengthy worldwide scientific expedition. Capt. Dan Brandenstein commanded the first flight of USA's Endeavour," he recalled. "It was a fantastic spacecraft, which did remarkable things that could not be imagined when the sailing ship left port in the 18th Century. But some things were the same. [Both ships] had a visionary leader who commissioned the voyage, scientific curiosity, a strong commander and a courageous crew," Szalai said.
Endeavour's new home at the California Science Center in Los Angeles will provide opportunities for Californians to see the vehicle designated as orbital vehicle OV-105.
"We will be able to take our children and grandchildren to see Endeavour, to talk of Wernher von Braun, Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Dan Brandenstein, all those who explore the unknown, and the voyages of Endeavour," Szalai reflected. "Perhaps one of these children will open their eyes wide, imagine, dream, and [someday] lead a crew to an unknown place in the starry sky in the future."
Dryden space shuttle operations manager George Grimshaw supported Endeavour's first space mission in 1992, the 36th shuttle landing at Edwards.
"I was the driver/technician in the convoy command vehicle," Grimshaw recalled. "Endeavour was the first orbiter to use a drag chute during landing and the first orbiter with improved nose wheel steering - both recommendations from the Rogers Commission following (the) Challenger (accident). As Endeavour touched down on the runway, we were closely watching as the chute deployed. A couple of years earlier we had used NB-52B 008 to test the drag chute system, so it was great to see it in use on the shuttle," Grimshaw said.
Endeavour returned from space and landed at Dryden seven times, its last appearance on Nov. 30, 2008. But as with all good things, the Space Shuttle Program came to an end.
"Endeavour's first flight, landing and ferry were exciting, not just because it was a new orbiter, but because it owed its existence (and legacy) to Challenger," Grimshaw reflected.
"As always, it was great to see Endeavour again (on its final ferry flight stopover), but this time with mixed emotions, knowing this was the last time," he said. "I think it will be even more difficult the first time I see Endeavour as a museum piece. Even so, I'm glad she will be on display here in Southern California for millions of people to see and experience up close - for the first time for most of them.
"I have supported the shuttle program in varying capacities with the Air Force and NASA since 1979," Grimshaw added. "It was a great program to be a part of and to be associated with.
"The shuttle was an inspiration to the world and a symbol of the greatness and capability of America and will hopefully continue to inspire current and future generations of Americans as we continue to work in and explore space," Grimshaw concluded.
By Jay Levine