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Space shuttle Endeavour: Excitement and a sense of sadness

September 21, 2012 | 11:43 am
EndeavourfansAs Endeavour barreled into L.A.’s airspace, excitement grew among the thousands waiting to catch a final glimpse of the retired space shuttle. But among some, there was a tangible sense of sadness and finality to the flyover.

"It's kind of sad, actually. It's sort of like a flag ceremony," said Steve Collins, from JPL, where he is part of the Curiosity Mars rover team. "It feels like they should be flying in the missing man formation."

At the signature Proud Bird restaurant at LAX early Friday, Ron Wade had driven in all the way from Wichita, Kan., to witness the historical homecoming. He’d worked on the shuttle as a high school senior, part of a vocational training program at Rockwell.

FULL COVERAGE: Endeavour's final journey to L.A.

"It's a sad homecoming," he said. "She should be in space. She completed 25 missions, and she was built for 100. She was retired way too soon."

Wade was at Edwards Air Force Base in 1984 when Endeavour lifted off for its fourth mission. And he was there in Florida when it thundered off on its final voyage in 2011. "All of the shuttles, I feel like they are my children."

Patrick Hill, 53, of Sunland, said he came to the cliffs of El Segundo to watch Endeavour make its final landing as a way to honor of his father-in-law Joseph Whitlock, who worked on the shuttle at the Palmdale facility.

SUBMIT PHOTOS: Upload your shuttle photos here

Hill said he and his wife created a collage of photographs of all the space shuttles, but especially Endeavour.

“He would be proud to see all this,” Hill said of his father-in-law, who died in March. “I’m overwhelmed. He loved this stuff.”

At the municipal pier in Huntington Beach, Brandon Larson waited to catch a last glimpse of the shuttle. It was the end of an era, in his book.

"The space program is no more,” he said. "After this, there will be no shuttles in space."

AnaRosa Villanueva, a manufacturing engineer at JPL, sat on a blanket on the law in front of Griffith Observatory, facing the Hollywood sign. The flyover, to her, would be filled with both pride and melancholy.

"I was inspired by Challenger,” she said, recalling the vivid moment in space travel history when that shuttle exploded. “And for my daughters to see a shuttle and see the end of an era -- I hope it inspires them to go into space."

She added: "It's sad."

Lounging comfortably at an outdoor table on the Santa Monica Pier, Peter Zaphiris and Marino Garvis bemoaned the shuttle's arrival as the "end of an era" of space exploration. Zaphiris said he fears it may never return.

"They're putting the space program to sleep," said Zaphiris, 75.


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Space shuttle Endeavour: Where to spot the shuttle

— Jeff Gottlieb, Matt Stevens, Hailey Branson-Potts and Angel Jennings

Photo: Tanton Harber, 7, of Santa Monica peaks out from his astronaut-themed tent, while camping out on Imperial Avenue in El Segundo, overlooking the runway at LAX. He was with his brother and parents, waiting to view the arrival of the space shuttle Endeavour. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times