As the space shuttle Endeavour flew by the Hollywood sign around 12:10 p.m., onlookers at the Griffith Observatory — some of whom had been waiting since 6 a.m. — whooped and hollered.
“That's the money shot,” said Larry Unser, in from St. Louis to visit his son in L.A. “I almost hate taking [pictures], because then you miss it.”
Joan Pappas of Arcadia didn't get a shot of the shuttle when it first approached. She pressed the wrong button and turned off her digital camera.
But she didn't have to wait long for the Boeing 747 carrying the shuttle to circle back as it swooped around the observatory again seconds later.
“I would not have missed this for anything,” said Pappas, who like others had waited hours to witness the historic event.
Michelle Espinoza and her friend Drake Caudillo of Whittier had to park their motorcycle on Los Feliz Boulevard and hike 45 minutes up to the observatory because of the crowded parking.
“It was totally worth it,” Caudillo said. “For me, this is like a bucket-list thing.”
At first they thought they weren't going to see the fly-by because of fog, but Espinoza got a shot of it in front of the Hollywood sign.
“I'm going to go home and print it,” Espinoza said.
For others who crowded into Griffith Park — at one point authorities closed some streets to traffic — the event was also about inspiration.
Sam Saldana let his three sons skip the first half of school to watch the Endeavour at Griffith Observatory to “open their eyes to possibility.”
“We're from a pretty rough part of town. I wanted to show them something different,” said Saldana, a machine operator from Pacoima.
Saldana, who works from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m, brought his sons over at 7 a.m. Friday.
“I feel like a zombie, but it's worth it,” he said.
Maybe after seeing the fly-by, his 5-, 7- and 9-year-old sons — who were all dressed in their blue polo school shirts and khakis — will want to become astronauts or engineers, Saldana said.
The plan was to take them to school for a half-day when the event ended, he added.
“They can see this and maybe want to do that one day,” Saldana said while looking out over the Hollywood Hills.
If the flyover on Friday was an exciting historical moment or potential inspiration to some, for others more intimately involved with the space shuttle program, it also triggered a bit of mourning.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, scientists and project managers were excited but admittedly sad that Endeavour’s last flight marked the end of an era.
“It's sort of like a flag ceremony,” said Steve Collins of the Mars rover Curiosity team. “It feels like they should be flying in the missing-man formation.”
Still, he said he was excited to meet up with several other rover team members to watch Endeavour's final flight, even if it was a somber occasion.
There’s a particular attachment for JPL scientists to Endeavour, which played a key role in carrying out experiments developed at the campus.
Oti Liepack, a missions operations specialist, said the shuttle is indelibly stuck in his memory. He first saw it on a visit to the U.S. from his native Berlin years before he ever thought he’d be working for NASA.
“To think that I saw it on the launch pad in 1981, and then to see it at the end of an era, it’s kind of sad,” he said. “It’s good it’s coming to [JPL], because there’s thousands of stories here."