Sunday, November 25, 2012

Endeavour's Homecoming Launches Statewide Shuttle-bration

On occasion I get to pretend I'm a journalist. This usually involves Diane sponsoring me for a coveted media pass to gain entry into various neat military and/or industry shows and events, but the quid pro quo is I need to produce an article on that gig for her to use in the next issue. 

When I first started doing articles for her this wasn't a big deal. In fact it was quite helpful as if gave me something to write about for a month that didn't involve as much research as is required by some of the more historical pieces that I do.  

But since she gave me my own column earlier this year, called "Retrospectives" for those who are curious, I've come to view those journalistic pieces as supplemental to my primary responsibility, which is, of course, providing a good story for my column

I'm sure some would say, "Just like a writer; give him his own space and it goes to right to his head." While that may be true, I prefer to think of it as pride of ownership. It's my space with my name attached to it: I will do the best I can to write something worthy to fill it.
Whatever the reason, the result is there are some months where I will write two or even three articles for the same issue - and all on my own time. Yes, I know it's nuts, but that's the way it is. So if I don't respond to emails or Facebook queries right away, you'll know why: I'm burning the midnight oil on deadline.

But if I didn't do that, I would not get to be a part of this! And that makes it all worthwhile.
This article was originally published in the Northrop Grumman Engineering Department's in-house, on-line magazine Airspace, Vol.3, No. 22, September 2012. It is re-posted here with permission and has approved for public release case number 12-1831.

For added interest I got included in a couple of the L.A. Times team's 360 degree panoramic photo spreads. While it's a bit like "Where's Waldo," I am in the crowd scene in the bleachers and in the 747 SCA interior shots. The link is here:
Endeavour’s Homecoming Launches Statewide Shuttle-bration

By Tony Chong

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the Space Shuttle Endeavour aboard its 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft to the Los Angeles International Airport was finally accomplished on Friday, September 21, 2012.

Named after Captain James Cook’s “voyage of discovery” vessel HMS Endeavour, Orbital Vehicle 105 Endeavour was built from structural spares after the loss of OV-099 Challenger in 1986. Endeavour’s first mission was STS-49, launched on May 7, 1992. She flew 25 missions in space with the last, STS-134, occurring in May 2011.

The youngest shuttle in the fleet was also the only one named as the result a national contest among elementary and secondary school students. This heritage of involving and exciting children in the space program and especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will now be the major focus of the decommissioned orbiter.

The California Science Center was a dark-horse winner in the fierce competition to get a shuttle. But the CSC’s bid was bolstered by solid goals and widespread community and political support. Added to the equation was that Endeavour would be the only orbiter displayed west of the Mississippi. When considering that the fleet was also built in Southern California, the win seems less surprising than at first glance. The stage was set for Endeavour to come home.

Originally planned as a direct flight from Edwards Air Force Base, where the 747 SCA and Endeavour were to spend the night before final delivery, NASA was convinced during consultations with the museum to do a grand tour of California, overflying famous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Shuttle-significant sites like Palmdale, where the vehicles were built, and NASA facilities such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The hope was the tour would generate interest in the Shuttle and its new home in the Exposition Park museum complex in Los Angeles. The result was nothing less than spectacular.

Starting in the morning, the route took the Shuttle from Edwards and Dryden up to Sacramento, then on to San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge. After a pass over Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, the flight plan took them over Monterey Bay, Vandenberg AFB and down the coast past Malibu.

Turning inland the shuttle passed over Santa Monica pier and began its Southern California tour, passing over many famous landmarks such as the Griffith Park Observatory and Disneyland, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Space-X in Hawthorne (the old Northrop site where 747 fuselages are still being built) and the Queen Mary.

The response was staggering. One 747 crewmember confided that he had never seen so many people at the Griffith Park Observatory. Spectators jammed the sites along the route and many workers in the tall downtown skyscrapers pressed their faces against the windows to see the Endeavour from what must have seemed like a level viewing location.

The 747 made one early pass over the north runways at LAX at the start of the L.A. tour. At the end it made one low and majestic pass over the south runway and VIP viewing stand at the United Airlines maintenance hangar before landing in triumph. To the stirring strains of Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, the 747 carrying Endeavour rolled to a stop, an American flag proudly flying from an open hatch over the cockpit.

The official welcoming ceremonies were emceed by Nichelle Nichols, best known as Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek t.v. show and subsequent movies. Nichols spent many years as a NASA spokesperson encouraging and recruiting female and minority candidates to apply to be astronauts. The late-Dr. Sally Ride was one of Nichols’ many successful recruits. Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut – who made her inaugural flight on Endeavour – cited Nichols’ portrayal of Lt. Uhura as her inspiration to become an astronaut.

Several current and former astronauts, all past Endeavour crewmembers, were in attendance, but did not speak. Actress June Lockhart – famous for her role in t.v.’s Lost in Space, among others, was also in attendance in support of the Endeavour welcoming, but she did not speak either. Like Nichols, Lockhart helped recruit female and minority astronauts for NASA.

Jeffrey Rudolph, the CSC president and CEO, spoke first, outlining the museum’s plans for showcasing Endeavour in phases: first as a temporary exhibit opening October 30 of this year in the Samuel Oschin Pavilion. In five years the new Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center will open with Endeavour displayed as a towering exhibit with real Solid Rocket Boosters and faux External Tank in the launch configuration. The Center will feature immersive experiences and hands-on exhibits designed to excite children in space and STEMs.

Lynda Oschin, Samuel Oschin’s widow and head of the foundation in his name, spoke next and detailed her conversion to the Shuttle’s coming. Invited to the official hand-over ceremony shortly after the award to CSC, she saw how excited the school kids at the event became when the astronauts appeared.

“The kids just went crazy,” she recounted later. “And I'm watching those children and thinking — I'm watching the next child who is going into space … because they are going to see the shuttle, they're going to be inspired by what they see … and they are going to do something in math and science and engineering, the areas that my husband loved."

The result was a “transformational” gift to the CSC that would allow an energetic start to the Air and Space Center named after her husband. She then told the audience that a photo of her husband flew in Endeavour on its trip from Kennedy Space Center to LAX.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villariagosa spoke next, followed by Inglewood mayor James Butts. Both expressed great satisfaction in seeing Endeavour come home, but both also addressed the issues many residents expressed about the cutting down of trees to make way for Endeavour’s 12 mile crawl through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles to the CSC site. The trees will be replanted 2 for 1 by the CSC, and many “trash” trees in Inglewood will be replaced by more desired species.

In the midst of the series of speakers, the sea breeze began to pick up. At one point Nichols’ note blew off the podium and onto the stage. Scrambling to recover her notes and find her place, she began to speak again only to have her voice drowned out by a Korean Air Lines 747-400 taking off from the runway behind her. Looking at the audience Nichols shrugged and launched into an acapella rendition of the famous choral part from the Star Trek theme music. Even though she could be barely heard, the crowd went wild.

Lori Garver, Deputy NASA Administrator and one of Nichols’ recruits, presided over the Endeavour flag exchange between NASA and the CSC. With a stage full of current and former astronauts and 747 SCA crew, the handover was complete.

The audience was then free to board the 747 SCA and to have their pictures taken in front of the two vehicles. It was indeed a memorable event.

The results of the California grand tour could not have been better. The excitement generated by the Shuttle produced a festive atmosphere that was emotional and communal. It brought the region together like no other happy event in recent memory. The amount of postings on Face Book pages, blogs and emails from non-aviation enthusiasts certainly made this one of the most photographed moments in Los Angeles history as well. Even the police were seen taking lots of personal pictures.

But the bottom-line question is will the enthusiasm last in the long term? If it does, this could prove to be a watershed moment in the effort to interest kids in STEMs and aerospace. The long-term health of the industry and the country’s future certainly depend upon it. As such, the best parting wish should be for Endeavour’s new mission to be a complete success.

Welcome home, Endeavour; the future begins now. 


For more on the California Science Center and the forthcoming Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, check these links:;;

A synopsis of Shuttle history can be found here:
Tony Chong is a historian, photographer and a contributing editor to Airspace. He leads activities in the Aerospace Systems Display Model Shop and works in El Segundo.

Photo Captions  

      1. The United Airlines maintenance hangar at LAX was loaned to the CSC for the Endeavour homecoming ceremony. Note the welcome home banner under the United banner and the t.v. monitor tracking Endeavour’s progress. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      2. One of United’s Boeing 737-900 extended range airliners was occupying the spot where the Shuttle would go after the de-mate process. The company used the opportunity to have the guests tour the interior of the aircraft before the ceremony. It was due to go back into service before the night was over. Photo credit: Tony Chong 

      3. Two large cranes were brought in to facility the de-mate process. The yellow structure is the support brace that attaches to the Shuttle. Note the taller section, which is the aft end of the brace. The procedure dictates that the Shuttle be nose on to the wind, thus the alignment as shown. Photo credit: Tony Chong

      4. A close up of the brace support. Photo credit: Tony Chong

      5. Endeavour will be placed on this large trailer for transport to the CSC site in Exposition Park. Speed will be about 2 mph. The tires have independent articulation to allow extremely precise maneuvering around corners and tight spots. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      6.The crowd begins to fill in the seats and bleachers as the Endeavour starts its southland tour. A Jumbotron screen tuned to live network coverage kept the audience apprised of the Shuttle’s whereabouts, with great shots from the ground and air. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      7. As seen by this image, the low pass down the south runways was indeed low. At this stage of the tour the 747 SCA was accompanied by two F/A-18A chase aircraft. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      8. The first really good live view of the Endeavour and 747 SCA that the crowd got was indeed impressive. Several in the VIP audience began to whoop and cheer. Note the two outsized endplate fins attached to the tips of the horizontal tails, giving the SCA its distinctive appearance. The plates are used to add more lateral stability when carrying the Shuttle. Photo credit: Tony Chong 


      9. The 747 SCA turns off the runway and onto a crossing taxiway, giving the audience a nice head-on view of the stack. While difficult to see, the rise behind the vehicles is loaded with people and cameras. Note the American flag and flight engineer popping out of the hatch above the cockpit. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      10. Turning on the crossways taxiway afforded the only opportunity for a sun-side shot of the Endeavour. For most of the day shooting was into the sun. The aircraft light up beautifully from this angle. Note the large faired travel cone in the back of Endeavour. That will be available to any museum that wants it after this flight. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      11. A close up of the cockpits of both vehicles. Note the mission markings on the 747 fuselage. According to CSC officials the Endeavour will not be washed or prettied up. They want to present the vehicle as she was after her last flight. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      12. The 747 SCA prepares to stop in front of the crowd. In actuality the vehicle will come to a halt with the nose obscured by the Jumbotron. This is the last clean shot from this vantage point.  Photo credit: Tony Chong


      13. The flag hand-over ceremony had all the attending astronauts and SCA crew members on stage. The three people in the front row are, from left to right, Nichelle Nichols, event emcee and actress, Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator, and Jeffrey Rudolph, CSC President and CEO. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      14.  A close up of the mission markings on the side of the 747 SCA. The markings are on both sides of the aircraft. The markings in front of the hatch, not seen in this shot, are the SCA crew names. The final disposition of the two SCA aircraft is still evolving. N911NA is currently at NASA’s Palmdale facility and is scheduled to be utilized as spare parts for SOFIA. Eventually it is supposed to go to Edwards AFB as a display with the NB-52B at North Gate. This aircraft, N905NA, is rumored to be used for carrying future projects. Note the Boeing Phantom Ray mark on the left. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      15. The interior of a 747-100 from the aft pressure bulkhead looking forward is quite spacious when the interior is stripped out. Heritage Northrop built over 1000 747 fuselages in Hawthorne before the commercial aerostructures side was sold to the Carlyle Group in 2000. This is what all those fuselage segments look like when assembled. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      16. A radio-controlled model of the 747 SCA with Shuttle was on display inside the aircraft. The model was used to test the flight characteristics of both vehicles during separation prior to trying it out on the real thing. Note the propeller on the inside engine nacelle. Photo credit: Tony Chong


      17. The number of tiles on the underside of a Space Shuttle is impressive. Also quite noticeable is the scarring and damage from the last reentry, as is the extensive weathering from operational use. Photo credit: Tony Chong 


      18. A tighter close up of the nose reveals more tile details. Each tile is individually marked with its own serial number and placement code. The Shuttles proved to be very maintenance heavy. Note the discoloration on the nose cap, explained to the author as due to the weathering from the airstream during the transit from Kennedy Space Center to LAX. Photo credit: Tony Chong

Approved for Public Release: Northrop Grumman Case 12-1831, 10/22/12

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