Sunday, September 23, 2012

Shuttle Endeavour comes home

There was growing excitement here in Los Angeles when the shuttle Endeavour left Florida to begin a three-day journey to its new home at the California Science Center. But one piece of information was not revealed until the night before its arrival today: what was its flight path over the basin. The list of landmarks (Malibu, the Getty Center, JPL, City Hall, Disneyland, Griffith Observatory, Queen Mary/Aquarium of the Pacific, SpaceX, Venice, Boeing Huntington Beach) that the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and Endeavour would fly over had been released, but not the path nor the order that the landmarks to be flown over.

When the flight path was revealed last night I took a look at it and decided that an overlook turnout on a main street in San Pedro might work out. This turnout looked out to the east towards the harbor of Long Beach (where the Queen Mary and the Aquarium are located), and would be flown over before us. There was no way to know exactly how close the 747 and Endeavour would get, so I brought my 300mm lens just in case, even though I was going to have a harder time keeping it still as opposed to my 18-200mm.

Anyway, I arrived to the turnout around 9:30. There were already some people waiting along the sidewalk, and about a quarter of the parking spaces were filled. I think they knew that they'd be either standing or sitting for at least the next two hours out in the bright sun. No one sat under any shade whatsoever. And the morning haze did nothing for visibility.


I spent some time reading a book, and occasionally turned on the radio to check on Endeavour's progress up north. The parking lot eventually filled, and soon people were double-parking behind us:


Need a potty run? Fuggedaboutit.

I amused myself by photographing a dog with a spotted tongue:


By this time we'd been waiting for two hours. Then, some people yelled they could see the Endeavour approaching, fastened atop the 747, followed by two F-18 chase planes. I looked and looked but couldn't make them out in the smog. This was my first view of it, when viewed using the 300mm lens:


As it flew near near the battleship USS Iowa the 747 started a slow left turn:


And it actually looked like it was going to pass right over our heads:


I switched to the 18-200mm zoom waiting for the shuttle to pass overhead. Ah...but it was wishful thinking. Soon it began another slow turn, but this time to the right:





It was bittersweet watching the youngest of the three remaining shuttles fly off in the distance for its final landing.

Watching Endeavour reminded me of when our daughter and I watched the shuttle Discovery launch in 1998 with Sen. John Glenn aboard. I got a few good pictures of Discovery arcing into the sky, leaving a trail of smoke and fire. We were on the long causeway south of Complex 39, sitting on top of the motorhome my dad had rented to see the launch. Loudspeakers had been erected on the causeway so that everyone there could listen in on the countdown and ascent. I listened with trepidation as Mission Control radioed to Discovery: "Discovery, go at throttle up." And then Discovery replied, "Go at throttle up." This was the reply that was last heard from the shuttle Challenger before it exploded after launch in 1986. But all went well as Discovery powered up its main engines and continued its climb. And then, it was over in just a few minutes, with just a twisting, serpentine trail of smoke marking its passage.

(Shot with the Nikon D300 using the 300mm f/4 and the 18-200mm zoom; shutter-priority with shutter speed set to 1/1000 second; sunny white balance; ISO 400; normal JPG.)


  1. Great pix. Have a wonderful Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Replies
    1. my father-in-law said that the aircraft flew very near our neighborhood. so perhaps i need not have bothered with driving to another location, but instead just have stayed home. this is all hindsight, though.

  3. What great pictures! You got a lot closer to it than I did! :P It is bittersweet to think that there are no more shuttle missions in the future.

    1. thanks, carrie. it looks like it was closer to me than it really was. if i'd been a mile north of where i was, it would've passed overhead. it was all a crapshoot guessing the actual flight path. so, on balance, i'm pleased with what i got.