It's the end of an era: the last flight of a space shuttle. And you can watch it happen Friday morning.
NASA has discontinued the space shuttle program, and is sending the last three remaining shuttles to museums. The Enterprise and Discovery have already made the trip, and the Atlantis will travel by land, leaving only the Endeavour to take wing, on its way to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
It will make the trip by piggybacking on a 747 airliner . The shuttle will pass over the Bay Area between about 9:30 and 11:00 a.m., NASA says. That's an hour later than originally planned, and the exact timing will depend on the pilot's last-minute decisions about weather.
Flying north, the Endeavour will go low over the State Capitol in Sacramento and then loop around to head back south over San Francisco area landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge.
Unless the fog rolls in, you should be able to watch the shuttle from just about anywhere you can see the sky near the coast. But here are the primo spots:
- NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, Mountain View. Gates will open at 6 a.m. If you planned to drive you may be out of luck; the 2,500 parking permits are sold out. But you can get there by public transportation. (For transit details, go to this page and scroll down.) Starting at 8 a.m., Ames will offer food trucks, exhibits and talks by people who worked in the shuttle program, including astronaut Stephen Robinson, who flew on the Endeavour.
- Chabot Space and Science Center, 10000 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland. The museum will open early, at 8:00 am. Weather permitting; the five story space shuttle will be hard to miss from the museum's Observatory Deck. Chabot will offer hands-on "astronaut training fun, space activities, and a viewing party – pajamas are optional. The Center’s café will be open, serving hot chocolate and coffee. Parking is free but admission is $15.95.
- Crissy Field at 1199 East Beach, San Francisco. No scientists will be on hand to explain anything (the nearby Exploratorium is not joining the party) but it's free, if you can find a place to park, and the view should be good if the sky is clear as the shuttle comes over the Golden Gate.
- The Lawrence Hall of Science, 1 Centennial Drive Berkeley. Lawrence Hall isn't planning any particular events, and doesn't open up until 10 a.m., but you can park ($1.50 for the first hour), and watch from the parking lot or stroll the plaza for free.
The Endeavour, named after Captain Cook’s ship of discovery, was authorized by Congress in 1987 to replace the Challenger, which was lost in the tragic launch accident in 1986. Over its flight career – 25 missions in 20 years – Endeavour flew 122,853,151 miles and spent 299 days in space.
The San Jose Mercury News offers this multimedia retrospective.