Shuttle Endeavour: A front row seat to history at the Proud Bird
A 3-year-old wore a shiny silver astronaut uniform. A shuttle fan from Kansas made the 1,400-mile drive from Wichita to witness the event. And a South L.A. woman brought along her 2-year-old granddaughter because she likes airplanes.
On Friday, as thousands across Southern California craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the retiring space shuttle Endeavour, the crowd at the Proud Bird restaurant at LAX had a front-row view as the space craft touched down for the final time.
With "I'm Proud to Be an American" blaring in the background, the Endeavour made three glorious loops in front of the restaurant before gliding across the tarmac toward a hangar where former astronauts, NASA officials and city officials saluted the spacecraft.
The restaurant hosted a special event at which patrons paid $25 to watch history up close. More than 500 jumped at the chance.
"I was weeping at the end as she came down," said Diana Friedberg, 65, of Woodland Hills. "It boggles the imagination to see what she has achieved in such a short lifetime."
In its 25 missions spanning nearly two decades, Endeavour circled the Earth more than 4,600 times, spending 299 days in space.
"We should all strive to accomplish such things," said Friedberg, who films documentaries, some of which featured the Endeavour.
Hunter Schroeder, 3, sat perched on this mother's shoulder, wearing an astronaut suit. He waved an American flag each time the shuttle cut across the sky, two fighter jets tagging along behind it.
For Pat Steming, the chance to witness the Endeavour's homecoming was bittersweet. She traveled to Cape Canaveral in Florida to watch the first launch, and she saw the craft land at Edwards Air Force Base.
"I'm sad it's all over," she said.
Leo Camacho, 29, set up a picnic area outside the restaurant with a group of co-workers. Though he had never seen a launch or landing, he appreciated how profound the moment was.
"It's like your grandfather's old Mustang," said the Azusa resident. "You never got to drive, but you remember it and you know what it's capable of. And it's still as pretty as you remember."
"They are not just landing it," he said. "They are parading it. They realized that space is cool."
Pamela Bryant of South L.A. sat with her 2-year-old granddaughter on her lap, taking in the scene. She hoped the moment would spark the child's curiosity. After all, the little girl likes airplanes, she said.
Ron Wade drove 1,400 miles through the night from Wichita to witness the homecoming. He worked on the shuttle as a high school senior through a vocational training program at Rockwell Downing. He was at Edwards Air Force Base in 1984 when the Endeavour returned from its fourth mission. And he was there again when it blasted out of Florida in 2011 in its final launch.
"Some guys are fanatics about baseball and they can tell you the batting averages of whoever," said the design engineer, who was wearing in a custom-made shirt with the Endeavour on it.
"I'm into aerospace."
Photo: The Endeavour lands at LAX. Credit: Angel Jennings.