Ten years ago, people all over California watched the skies in hopes of catching a glimpse of space shuttle Endeavour as the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft as it ferried Endeavour to Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 2012.
Today, all eyes are on Artemis I, the upcoming first launch of NASA’s mega Moon rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion spacecraft, as NASA builds a long-term presence at the Moon as part of Artemis.
On its final flight to the California Science Center, Endeavour was escorted by a combination of F/A-18s and an F-15 from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. Those aircraft were flown by NASA Armstrong pilots, while center photographers and videographers documented the orbiter’s final journey.
Included on the space shuttle’s flight path were many California landmarks such as the California State Capitol Building, Disneyland, Dodger Stadium, the Getty Center, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Hollywood sign. Also on the route were the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, NASA’s Ames Research Center, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and the Santa Monica Pier.
The shuttle Endeavour brought the first parts of the International Space Station to space and completed 25 missions. Today, Artemis focuses on returning humans to the Moon, establishing a long-term presence in deep space, eventually sending astronauts to Mars.
Endeavour was the fifth orbiter built and it first arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 7, 1991, atop the NASA 747. It was built as a replacement for space shuttle Challenger, which had a fatal incident after launch on Jan. 28, 1986.
NASA Armstrong was part of Endeavour’s history, including its first landing from space on STS-49 more than 30 years ago on May 16, 1992. That nine-day mission included the capture of the inoperable Intelsat VI communications satellite and replacement of its rocket motor.
The center was a key part of the Space Shuttle Program including the Approach and Landing Tests. During the tests with the space shuttle prototype Enterprise in 1977 with a release from atop the NASA 747, it was validated the shuttle could land unpowered.
NASA Armstrong also has played an invaluable role in the Artemis program and contributions to the Orion spacecraft. Center personnel were instrumental in the 2010 Pad Abort-1 Orion launch abort system developmental test, assisted with the Artemis Ascent-Abort-2 safety test, tested components and completed integration work, and other research and support.
Endeavour remains at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, where it has been on display. Construction of a new exhibit hall is underway, which will permit the former orbiter to be displayed in an upright position with space shuttle rocket booster casings on either side in a configuration like it would have launched to space.
The orbiters no longer conduct space missions, but they continue to inspire. They are the legacy from which Artemis is built. They contributed greatly to our ability to go back to the Moon, and the contributions they made to the International Space Station and deep space exploration will lead the way for our eventual trip to Mars.