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Space shuttle Endeavour leaves Houston for California

September 20, 2012 |  5:33 am

California, here it comes.

Space shuttle Endeavour left Houston shortly after 5 a.m. PST on Thursday en route for Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert, where it is expected to touch down around 12:30 p.m. after a 30-minute flyover around the base.

Riding atop a modified Boeing 747, the retired orbiter will first dip low over the Texas state Capitol in Austin before stopping to refuel at El Paso's Biggs Army Airfield, NASA officials said. It will then fly  over NASA's White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico before heading to Tucson for another low pass. 

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

The Tucson flyover was added to the route to honor former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose husband, Mark Kelly, commanded Endeavour's final mission last year. Kelly requested the flyover, NASA confirmed.

To welcome the space shuttle to Southern California, NASA has invited 40 of its social media followers, including space enthusiasts, to the Dryden center. The participants were randomly selected from online registrations that took place in August, according to information published by the space agency.

The group, restricted to U.S. citizens 18 and over who follow NASA on Twitter, Facebook and Google+,  will have a rare opportunity to see the landing and departure of Endeavour, officials said. They will also be given the opportunity to speak with experts, tour shuttle support vehicles and other NASA aircraft, as well as interact with members of NASA's social media team, according to the published information.

PHOTOS: Space shuttle Endeavour arrives

Portions of the so-called NASA social will be carried live on the space agency’s television station and website, according to NASA’s website.

A few VIPs, including local officials, military personnel and Air Force One service members, will also have on-site viewing privileges at Edwards, Dryden officials said.

The shuttle will depart the Mojave Desert base about 7:15 a.m. Friday and will fly low over Palmdale, Lancaster, Rosamond and Mojave before heading north to Sacramento and San Francisco, NASA officials said.

INTERACTIVE: Endeavour comes to California.

Once the shuttle reaches the Los Angeles area about 10:30 a.m. Friday, the orbiter will be carried over landmarks including the Getty Center, the Griffith Observatory, Malibu and Disneyland before landing at Los Angeles International Airport. It will also fly over the California Science Center in Exposition Park, its new permanent home.

But Endeavour's journey won't end Friday. The shuttle will be housed at a United Airlines hangar until Oct. 12, when it will begin a two-day celebratory trek through the city's streets to the museum's new Samuel Oschin display pavilion. The exhibit will open to the public Oct. 30.

Tweet your photos to @latimes or @lanow with the hashtag #SpotTheShuttle. Don't forget to tell us where you are! Photos can also be uploaded here. Check back -- we'll be compiling the best reader photos.


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-- Kate Mather and Ann M. Simmons