Endeavour: Retired astronaut Mark Kelly recalls 'incredible' shuttle
Retired astronaut Mark Kelly might have commanded space shuttle Endeavour's final mission, but he admitted he's not jealous of the person who has to guide it down the streets of Los Angeles.
"I'm glad I'm not driving the vehicle," Kelly said Thursday. "I'm interested to see how it goes. Hopefully they don't put a scratch on it."
Around midnight Friday, the shuttle rolled out of a United Airlines hangar at Los Angeles International Airport en route to its new home at the California Science Center, a two-day trek that will carry it through South L.A. and Inglewood. The super-slow move will be a delicate operation as the retired orbiter is guided across some of the area's major thoroughfares.
Kelly spoke to The Times following a news conference in Culver City held by Time Warner Cable, which donated cash and services to the Science Center to assist with the move.
Kelly admitted it was "a little sad to see a space shuttle go off to a museum," but said he was glad the public would have an opportunity to see Endeavour first-hand.
"It's a really incredible machine," he said. "People should be proud of it. I hope they come out and take a look. It's an amazing thing to see up close."
Endeavour carried Kelly to space for the first time, and the orbiter's final mission in May was also his last.
"Endeavour is my favorite space shuttle. I'm glad it's the one that got to make this last journey through the air," he said of the shuttle's farewell tour from Florida to L.A., which included low flyovers and stops across the southern U.S. and California.
One of those low flights was over Tucson, where Kelly lives with his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords was gravely injured in a 2011 shooting at an event in her district that killed six others.
Kelly said the flyover won't be the last time he sees Endeavour. He plans to bring his wife and family to Los Angeles to see the orbiter on display at the California Science Center's yet-to-be-built Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.
"I'll be back. I'll bring Gabby back to see it, and my kids, and one day, my grandkids," he said. "I'll be able to look up and say, 'Hey kids, one day, a long time ago, I took that thing into space.'"
— Kate Mather
Photo: Capt. Mark Kelly, commander of the space shuttle Endeavour's final mission, speaks to reporters in Culver City on Thursday. Credit: John Shearer / Associated Press/Invision