WASHINGTON -- The countdown has begun for delivery of the retired space shuttle Endeavour to Los Angeles, the last orbiter that will fly out of Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a jet.
L.A.’s welcome of the Endeavour is shaping up as splashier than Kennedy Space Center’s farewell. L.A. is promising a marching band, among other fanfare, fitting for the spectacle of a space shuttle traveling through the city streets; the program at Kennedy Space Center (expect speeches) is still being put together.
Still, Kennedy Space Center’s visitors complex is selling tickets -- $90 for adults, including admission to the visitor complex -- to view the Endeavour’s final departure Sept. 17 from near where shuttles landed after completing their missions. Or, visitors who pay the complex’s $50 admission charge can watch the modified 747 carrying the shuttle fly 300 feet over their heads from the complex’s rocket garden.
The plane carrying the shuttle is due to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Sept. 20, weather permitting, after a flyover of the region.
NASA is now considering flying the Endeavour over other cities on its way to L.A.; the space shuttle Discovery's flyover of Washington -- en route to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum -- drew big crowds in April. The space agency is expected to announce the route later this week for Endeavour’s cross-country journey.
The plane carrying the shuttle is scheduled to land Sept. 19 at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, home of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center and a place where the Endeavour often landed on its own. But no public events are planned there.
A NASA team and others involved in delivering 170,000-pound shuttles to New York and Washington will be on hand at LAX to prepare the orbiter for the slow 12-mile trip through city streets to the California Science Center; that journey will begin on the morning of Oct. 12.
The shuttle is due to arrive at the science center in Exposition Park on the night of Oct. 13. It will go on public display on Oct. 30.
The science center won the prized space artifact after a fierce nationwide competition.
The space shuttle Discovery and the test shuttle Enterprise are already drawing crowds at the National Air and Space Museum annex in northern Virginia and at New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, respectively. The shuttle Atlantis, already at the Kennedy Space Center, will be towed a short distance in November to the visitor complex there and put on public display in July.
Since Discovery’s arrival, 655,239 people have visited the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, about a 30% increase from the same period a year ago, according to the National Air and Space Museum spokeswoman.
Since the Space Shuttle Pavilion opened at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in mid-July, the museum has seen a nearly 59% increase in attendance for July and August compared to the same period a year ago, a spokesman said.
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