Shuttle Endeavour: Nostalgia, personal connections draw spectators
On the 27th floor of City Hall – the Tom Bradley Room – more than 50 people squeezed into the observation deck that wraps the building, overlooking downtown Los Angeles.
They shuffled about, vying for the best spot to view the space shuttle Endeavour. Terry Anderson and Maggie Kraisamutr faced their home toward the north, around Dodger Stadium, hoping that they could snap a photo with the hills and the mountains in the background. They had gotten here a little late and took what spots were available.
Kraisamutr said she's not a space nut, but appreciates what the program has done for her industry over the years. She works in special effects and said it has a lot to thank NASA for.
"Like optics and computer technology," she said. "A lot of things everyone uses."
On the west-facing view, people crammed belly to back, figuring it would be the best. Marta Evry looked at her smartphone to get the flight plans.
"Oh. This is interesting," she said. "It's going in west coming around and circling City Hall. So we'll have two shots of it."
She looked through her telescopic camera lens, which stretches nearly 1½ feet and weighs 15 pounds – "It weighs more than my cat," she said smiling.
Evry, who works in film and TV editing, took the day off so she could see the shuttle: "I'm kind of playing hooky from work with my boss's permission."
As she looked out over the cityscape, she spotted tiny figures all over, walking out onto the roofs of buildings. At the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in front of her. people crowded next to an overhang, the shaded spot on the roof.
Across the way, a crowd gathered at Grand Park. Earlier that day Tom Bonner, 53, of Santa Monica set his camera up to shoot pictures of the new park for the architects who designed it.
"As soon as I heard the space shuttle was coming I changed the shoot," Bonner said.
He set up his shot using a level, hoping to frame the park with downtown's jutting skyscrapers and the soaring shuttle. As he thought about it, he said it was funny because the shuttle – and not the park -- was the main object.
"In this case, the shuttle being in the photograph will mark the time of a major event," Bonner said. "And this is sort of a historical event."
Childers said she saw the Endeavour, when it first launched in Florida, "in May of 1992," she said. "I want to say it was May 8, but I'm not exactly sure."
She was off by just one day.
She said her husband worked on the shuttle and built a robotic arm. Her husband died in 1994 and she took a day off work to see the shuttle.
"It has a bit of sentimental value," she said.
A plane flew overhead and she pointed to it from the pink bench in Grand Park. "See. I'm hoping it flies just like that. That's about 1,500 feet I think. Then I could get a nice picture."
If she manages to get one good enough, she said, she will stick it next to the photos she took of its first launch.
Back at the 27th floor, a bit later, bodies leaned into the tight space on the City Hall observation deck and the plane arched through one of the pillars where people had crammed to get photos. It looked like a hazy tube of lopsided toothpaste from this distance.
The view of the shuttle only lasted a second. The cameras snapped and then disappeared from sight, blocked by the next stone pillar. Evry, the woman with the large lens, ran to the other side and a logjam of bodies nearly blocked her way.
It was gone. Someone in the crowd joked, "Man, I want my money back."
But Alan Holstein, an intern in the planning department, was upbeat: "It was exciting still because it got my heart pumping just to see the space shuttle fly here."
About 20 people were still on the observation deck when Endeavour appeared again. At first, it was far away – like a fleck of dust on the blue screen of people's cellphone cameras. But it kept coming closer and closer.
"It's coming right at us," someone shouted.
"USA! USA!" yelled another.
And Evry snapped away, muttering, "Oh yeah, oh my God."
Evry checked her photos and you could almost see the writing on the space shuttle. Strangers congratulated one another, smiling and laughing.
-- Weston Phippen in downtown Los Angeles
Photo: The space shuttle Endeavour flies over the downtown Los Angeles skyline Sept. 21, 2012 in Los Angeles. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times