Friday marked the end of an era at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, as dozens of scientists, engineers and others gathered to catch one last glimpse of the Endeavour, the shuttle that carried many of their experiments and projects into space.
More than 100 JPL employees and a handful of guests congregated in the sun-soaked parking lot on the research facility’s Cardiac Hill, lining the edge of the lot with camping chairs and improvised shade providers.
Hundreds of people lined Oak Grove Drive just outside the campus to watch Endeavour — and NASA’s shuttle program — head for a final landing. After a period at an LAX hangar, the shuttle will take city streets to its final destination at the California Science Center in Los Angeles
“It’s probably the most complex vehicle ever built by man,” said Nicholas Siegler, a product delivery manager at JPL. “There’s a million things that can go wrong, and they rarely do.”
Siegler saw Friday’s flyover as the final note for the shuttle program, though not everyone was as reverent.
“You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” laughed Mike Kobrick, a project scientist on JPL’s Radar Topography Mission, which created detailed maps of the Earth thanks to the shuttle. In fact, he said, he was actually “over the moon” to again see the shuttle that carried his project into space.
“The shuttle was handy. You could build something quickly and fly it [into orbit] and then get your hardware back, refine it and fly it up there again,” he said. “We’re losing that. Probably in my life we won’t have another vehicle capable of carrying 30,000 pounds into orbit and returning.”
At 12:13 p.m. La Cañada High School students shouted “There it is!” as the plane carrying Endeavour appeared from around the side of Flintridge, banked over the Arroyo Seco and buzzed JPL.
Students in K.C. Matthews’ fourth-period world history class and Steve Zimmerman’s biology class sat in the football stadium bleachers for the better part of an hour, taking a quiz and waiting on the shuttle. They were joined by students in three or four other classes, including students supervised by physics instructor Eryn Walsh.
Asked if she could use the day’s events in a lesson plan, Walsh said it would be too easy. “What can’t I use in the classroom?” she said.
Up the hill at St. Francis High School, hundreds of students gathered at the railings of the classroom building. As Endeavour flew over, many raced to the other side of the building to watch it soar away.
“These kids don't have a lot of points in time they can relate to,” said Zimmerman, who recalled seeing President Eisenhower’s funeral train roll through his hometown in Kansas. “These points in time tie people together.”
“I think it's exciting,” said Shannon Hsu, 15. “This won't happen again.”
“It was, like, really awesome,” said seventh-grader Jeremy Kim. “History happened right in front of my eyes.”
Shuttle watchers had packed the parking lot at Hahamongna Watershed Park and were watching from under the shade of oak trees or along Oak Grove Drive.
“I cried,” said Claudy Castilla of Glendale, who had set up at the corner of Oak Grove and Foothill Boulevard with her 3-year-old son Quinn and infant daughter Eloise. “It was such a big moment.”
Howard Eisen, a JPL flight system manager who worked on three of the shuttle’s missions, said the flyover was a chance to bust out his Endeavour flag and see its final flight.
“It’s absolutely beautiful to see it one more time,” he said.